Facilities Advisory Committee presents new plan for high school bond

The Siuslaw School District Facilities Advisory Committee held several public meetings in the past 10 months and gave surveys to the community in regards to the district's buildings and educational offerings.

Siuslaw School Board dismisses complaints after holding executive sessions

Siuslaw School Board met for its August meeting on Wednesday, beginning earlier than usual to meet in executive session on several items. The meeting covered business items and a presentation by the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee, with approximately 20 people attending the public sessions of the meeting.

During the open meeting, Siuslaw Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak introduced the Facilities Advisory Committee cochairs Aric Sneddon and Bob Orr. The two made a presentation based on information from the failed school bond bid from the November 2018 election, as well interactions with the community and district faculty and staff.

In two separate election cycles, the school district has failed to pass school bonds for upgrades and improvements to the district’s buildings, mainly the high school and elementary school.

 “We have spent from November up until now reaching out to the community, trying to engage them in multiple ways to try to get feedback off the last bond measure to see where we are as a community,” Aric said. “We’re trying to make sure we have a lot of community members from a lot of different worlds helping us along the process.”

The slideshow presentation gave details on a survey offered to members of the community as well as one offered to faculty and staff.

Orr said the results only included responses from the 350 residents and 125 faculty who took the surveys, and of those, 60 percent voted in favor of the bond.

Some of the results showed that the community felt there was a “clear need” for the bond measure, that people “always vote for schools” and that the bond would improve classrooms, safety and security.

“They also showed ‘improving the economy,’ which we think is certainly significant,” Orr said. “If we’d had more time, we might have been able to convince more people that that was an important reason to vote ‘yes.’”

The results also showed why people voted against the bond.

“‘Too expensive’ was by far the largest reason,” Orr said.

People reported wanting to see the high school remodeled instead of replaced and felt that the bond tried to loop in too many additions, including athletic fields and an auditorium.

“A remodel will actually be more expensive than a new (high school) facility, if we take into account all the things that are needed for a remodel,” Orr said.

Moving forward, the Facilities Advisory Committee recommends requesting approval of a bond measure to fund only a new high school building.

“Ideally, we would keep the bond under $89.5 million,” Aric said.

He and Orr emphasized this would only be possible if sufficient time is allotted for promotion by a political action committee (minimum of nine months); school board members, faculty members and a significant number of community members commit to actively engage in explaining the need to the community; efforts to bridge the gap between community and schools are enhanced to create a more favorable climate for passage of the bond; and all feasible efforts are made to reduce/contain costs, including considering delaying aspects of the construction, such as the auditorium, reducing footprint or changing location.

 “One of the things that we do really well is educate kids on Oak Street — but we don’t stay out on the street. We don’t celebrate with the community when we have amazing things happen,” Aric said. “We need to do a better job of engaging with the community so that they understand our completion rate and what our graduation rate is, and so they can celebrate with us. That is key.”

Orr added, “It is important that there be more ties between the schools and the community. … Our feeling is that the more we can do to get people engaged in the community with the schools, to see that there are advantages to having these schools in the community, will make a big difference in terms of the feelings that people have about the schools. The more benefit that people see to having the schools in the community, the better off we’ll be.”

Orr also discussed the Siuslaw Vision’s Education Impact Study, which interviewed individuals over a two-year period ending in April. He read, “The desire for a community center runs deep throughout the Siuslaw region. … there is a need for a community center to serve as a hub for learning, teaching and sharing information.”

Potentially, some of the district’s needs, such as for an auditorium for student and school use, could be addressed by creating a space usable by more of the public.

“We could promote understanding that a new high school building could serve as a hub of learning for the entire community,” one slide in the presentation said. “Consider ‘Siuslaw High School and Community Learning Center.’”

Aric said, “We have reached the point in our community where we now have more residents that moved here after their kids were in school than have kids currently in school. We have a lot of residents who have never been in the buildings, they’ve never been to a sporting event, they’ve never been to a choir or band concert. Because they don’t have grandkids or kids in the school, we are disconnected to them just because of when they arrived in the community. We need to find a way to engage with those members.”

According to the committee, there are two dates to target for the next bond, if approved: the elections in November 2020 or May 2021.

“The longer we wait, the higher the costs will be,” Orr said. “And it keeps going up.”

If passed, the construction phase for a new high school would take three years, with one for planning, one for construction and one to remove the old building.

By keeping the cost under $89.5 million, the district also hopes to keep the amount per thousand of assessed value about $2 for property owners who would pay for the bond.

“As the bonds are sold, the tax rate slowly starts to increase,” Aric said. “You wouldn’t see a full bond sale until almost completion of the building, if all the things came to fruition.”

The Facilities Advisory Committee also made a presentation to the City of Florence Community and Economic Development Committee this week, which emphasized the economic benefits of a new school, not only for students but for construction firms, local businesses and more.

“We saw a vast benefit when we built the middle school,” Aric said. “In the construction fields, people came into the community to work on that building, and they realized when they got here how much they love Florence. They are still here today.”

Although the district would still have unmet needs after going for a smaller bond, including safety, security and seismic needs at the elementary school, those could be addressed separately.

“At the end of the day, we still need a high school,” Aric said. “The cost to renovate (the high school) would be putting good money in a bad situation. It would not be the best stewards of the taxpayer dollars. It would cost us as much to repair as it would be to replace the building, and we wouldn’t gain a square foot. … A new facility will cost less and we would gain the needed square footage.”

After hearing some additional reports, the board reached the conclusion of the regular meeting.

The meeting’s format ran a little unusually, as the board opened the meeting by going straight into executive session.

Board Chair Guy Rosinbaum opened the meeting, saying, “Welcome everyone. As I said before, we’re going to go pretty quick into executive session. We’ll probably be there for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. We’re going to hear several things there.”

After approving the agenda, Rosinbaum read a statement that the board would meet in executive session under ORS 192.660(2)(h), “to consult with counsel concerning the legal rights and duties of a public body with regard to current litigation or litigation likely to be filed,” and under ORS 192.660(2)(b), “to consider the dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent who does not request an open meeting.”

The first executive session lasted a little over two hours. When the board returned to open session, Director Bob Sneddon moved to amend the agenda to continue with the regular meeting and resume executive session later.

This was approved by the board “in recognition of the number of people who are here for other items on the regular agenda,” as Bob said.

After the presentations, Rosinbaum stated, “We will go ahead and finish our deliberations in executive session, and come back out and make whatever determinations the board feels it needs to make at that point.”

The final executive session lasted a further 40 minutes.

When the board returned to open session, Rosinbaum said, “I want to ask everyone, no matter how the vote goes, to stay and listen to the end of what we have to say.”

He then read a statement provided by the district’s lawyer: “These complaints were considered in executive session in compliance with board policy and state law. Complainants had the opportunity to submit extensive documentation, make oral statements to the board in executive sessions and hear and read responses from the personnel involved. The board will engage in no discussion in open session due to the confidentiality requirements, but may only vote on the disposition of each complaint.”

The board then voted to dismiss each of the four complaints, with Director Dianna Pimlott voting opposed on agenda item 4(b)(i). There was no discussion.

“In addition, the board has asked me to make a statement on the board’s behalf in regard to this matter,” Rosinbaum said. “There are some concerns that the board is going to look into further, and we would like to understand how the process came about so we can make sure that we don’t make any mistakes going forward into the future.”

The board voted to adjourn the meeting at 10:20 p.m.

The Siuslaw School District Board of Directors regularly meets the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Siuslaw School District Office. Future meetings may also begin at 6 p.m. for board work sessions.

For more information about the Siuslaw School District board, visit www.siuslaw.k12.or.us/school-board--169.