How Supporters, Opponents View the Impact of the SPS Bond Issue
Major educational changes are before voters living in the boundaries of the Springfield school district. Proposition SPS seeks approval of a $189 million bond proposal that emerged from the district’s Facility Master Plan.
Springfield Public Schools is the largest district in Missouri with over 25,000 students across 52 buildings. Each school is a stepping-stone for students and a symbol for the community. It is why many consider the two-phase plan to renovate, consolidate and eliminate a number of facilities a pressing decision.
“I’ve always been concerned about the fact that nearly 80 percent of our school buildings in our school district are over 50 years old,” Wes Pratt said. “Certainly Campbell, Pipkin and Boyd the schools that I attended are much the same structure as they were when I was a kid growing up.”
Pratt is a Springfield native and member of the Quality Schools for Kids Committee, which supports the bond. He says schools on the city’s north side deserve better learning environments.
Over the full 12-year plan, four elementary schools will close: Campbell, Bowerman, Delaware and York. Those students will be moved to surrounding facilities. Each phase is estimated to take six years.
The first phase calls for renovation and additions at 19 schools, including combining four elementary/middle school campuses with individual principals.
Donna Petiford, legislative chair for the Springfield Council of PTAs, believes the district is putting students first by renovating buildings to create joint campuses.
“In the past I feel like there may have been some schools that might have been closed prematurely and combined with another school that wasn’t ready to take those students, so they added mobile units to accommodate that. I think that the plan now that they will have in place a better building for those students to be moved to and so I think that will be better for students if they do work it that way,” Pettiford said.
The Springfield Council of PTA supports the measure.
Save R-12 Committee formed in opposition to the proposal. Spokesperson Virgil Hill at a press conference in February said the new buildings don’t equal high academics.
“SPS students continue to perform below state averages across the range of disciplines tested,” Hill said. “This is despite the ongoing participation and laggard scores of districts in the state which have become unaccredited, subjects of probationary status or other similar marks of systematic failure.”
The group has cited increased test scores at York, a school slated to be closed and consolidated under the plan, but declining scores at Westport. The former elementary school underwent a major renovation and became a K-8 school after voters approved a bond issue in 2009.
The committee says the district’s proposal also values buildings over teachers, and some buildings will be reduced to rubble.
“This proposal will radically expand the number of abandoned buildings and campuses throughout the community, especially in northern parts of the city,” Hill said.
Pratt, a former student at one of the buildings that would close under the plan, disagrees with the group.
“I know some of the people who are a part of that everybody’s got an opinion about things they’re entitled to their opinion I just happen to disagree with them regarding the benefits associated with this opportunity to our students, to me it’s worth the investment.”
“Everywhere you look there’s an issue, the paint peeling the windows leak the roofs leak exposed pipes, ceiling tiles, just little things like that.”
Cheryl Clay, NAACP president says this after a tour inside Boyd Elementary where she was a student in the 60s. She supports the measure because the buildings are no longer useful educational facilities.
“They’ve done some improvement, but if you look at the building it’s old,” Clay said. “It says established 1908 on the sign, the buildings got 1911 on it but look up at the top of the roof, see the facing the faucet, I mean what do you do about this at some point you’ve got to give and I think the children who go here deserve a better learning environment”
Last month, during a Greater Ozarks Pachyderm Club meeting, SPS Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann told the audience that while the district is investing well in it students, it could do more. This was measured on district size and free/reduced lunch comparisons.
“As we look at peers regionally and across the state they’re doing a little bit more on their debt service in order to fund their facilities and we think that’s one of the reasons we have room for improvement,” said Jungmann.
Springfield ranks near the bottom when compared to local districts and urban counterparts across the state. That’s in terms of debt service levy and how much that levy generates per child.
Proposition SPS asks voters to approve a 24-cent increase to its debt-service levy, to be phased in over two years (12 cents in 2017 and 12 cents in 2018). The cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would be approximately $23 for the first year and $46 annually beginning the second year.
“Some people may get sticker-shock about the fact that its $189 million bond issue in Phase 1 but that’s about $4 a month over the 2 phases of the bond measure,” Pratt said. “To me it’s worth the investment it’s worth the investment for Springfield but certainly worth the investment for our young people, we’ve got to continue to invest in the educational development for our young people.”
The Springfield Neighborhood Advisory Council, whose neighborhood associations comprise about half the city’s households, studied the plan for a month. Among its observations are that SPS buildings haven’t received adequate maintenance for decades. They also concluded that the costs of Phase 1 are rough estimates, and no sites have been confirmed for new schools.
“Our interpretation from SPS officials is that they appear to have no proactive financial commitment in their plan to address beneficial reuse of closed buildings… Therefore, we are concerned that the closures may result in serious negative impacts to property values, tax bases, and crime, and usher in general neighborhood deterioration.”
The NAC report went on to say that such a scenario could lead to a widening of student proficiency test gaps, and could negate gains from Zone Bilitz, the city’s poverty reduction program. The organization encourages SPS to “work more directly with neighborhoods and the city” to ensure re-investments are made in the areas affected.
In a frequently asked questions document on its website, the district said, “The school board has stated that its goal is to ensure that sites with no district purpose will be repurposed in a positive way that adds value to the community. When the district no longer needs a property or the property is not suitable to the district’s needs, the school board may authorize the direct sale and transfer or lease of the property in accordance with law.”
The FAQ sheet notes that Phase 2 will not require an additional debt service tax levy based on current projections. The next phase will begin as projects from the first phase are completed and voters authorize funding.
All registered voters who live within the school district boundaries can vote on Proposition SPS on Tuesday, April 4. The district’s boundaries are larger than those of the city of Springfield, so some living beyond the city limits may still be eligible to vote.
Polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm.