Aug. 21, 2019 — After 20 years, the Siuslaw School District announced the completion of the Siuslaw Middle School bond.
“Taxpayers said ‘yes’ for a bond starting in 1999, and 20 years have passed. We made our final payment June 30,” said Siuslaw School District Business Manager Kari Blake. “This last payment was $1.6 million, so I’m happy to not have to write that check again.”
In February 1999, the Siuslaw School Board voted to include the middle school, bus barn and an athletic facility on a bond measure for the May 1999 election. The total cost was projected to be $15.39 million on a 21-year bond.
Under those estimates, “The proposed new middle school would be built at a cost of $12.04 million and would be a two-story, 95,000-square-foot building to accommodate classroom space for 600 students and a ‘core’ for 800 students, which would encompass the commons area, administrative offices, gym, auxiliary gym and locker rooms,” reported the Siuslaw News at the time.
The former middle school was built in 1954. By the 1980s, the school district began to consider replacement of the building due to increased maintenance costs, building deterioration and the need to better serve students.
The Nelson Report, a public opinion research firm, conducted a telephone survey in 1999, ultimately talking to 386 registered voters within the district.
“The survey revealed the priority issues among those in the community include the proposal for a new middle school because of its current lack of classroom space and its current inability to meet the state’s school building safety and fire codes,” wrote the Siuslaw News.
The survey also concluded that 64 percent of the respondents gave the district a positive rating.
“The Siuslaw School District receives strong support from its community through a very high performance rating. … This is a very high rating for a school district,” the survey concluded.
In 1999, bond interest rates were at a 30-year low. It was projected that the bond would cost taxpayers $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The Siuslaw School Board Chairperson at the time, John Balcom, said, “It is a lot of money. It is not cheap to build schools these days. We need to fund schools, but that means asking taxpayers, some who are on a fixed income, some who are low income, to ante up and be a part of that. It is something we do in this country. We take responsibility for educating our kids, and it is expensive to do that.”
To pass the bond, the Siuslaw School Board appointed four committees that met in 34 public meetings in two years, which included more than 50 community members, parents, students, board members and staff. The final public meetings were held in April and May before the election.
The bond passed on May 18, 1999, after 55 percent of voters turned out for the election. Those in favor numbered 2,920 compared to 1,879 against.
Steve Waddell, then the Siuslaw School District Superintendent, said, “I think there was a critical mass that understood what the problems were with the school. … The district has always spent its money wisely and conservatively so that people knew that we weren’t asking for money to be spent in a frivolous manner.”
According to Blake, it was a 20-year bond that was initially for $15,635,000; in total, with interest, it ended up being $26,652,168, all paid by the taxpayers.
“This bond was designed to be a ‘sunset bond,’ so it started off really high and has taken a dip down,” she said, with local taxpayers in the last year of the bond paid 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the final piece of it.
“Common practice now designs the bonds to stay as consistent as possible through the life of the bond,” Blake said, adding that the “sunset bond” method would not work for the community now. “To accomplish that with today’s dollar would not be ideal for our taxpayers. They would take a pretty big hit at the top.”
According to Blake, the rate has been around that 90 cents since she has worked at the district.
“Next year, when people get their taxes in November, that will come off. That’s exciting for everybody that we made it through the period,” she said.
The Siuslaw School District is continuing to look at ways to increase community awareness about the current state of the district’s buildings, with the Facilities Advisory Committee beginning to plan a future bond centered around the replacement of Siuslaw High School.
“With the middle school bond, we’ve learned a lot, even for those of us who haven’t been here through the whole thing,” Blake said. “We’ve learned a lot about the project from start to finish, including all of the ‘what to do right,’ ‘what to do better’ kind of things to take into consideration for the future. We’re excited about that.”
The Facilities Advisory Committee will be working to increase awareness of the district’s successes to residents in the Florence area.
Co-chair Aric Sneddon told the Siuslaw School Board last week, “We want to promote community recognition that the middle school bond was paid off, so we want to make sure that the district does make an effort to let the community know that it was paid for, and early.”
“It was important for them that we celebrate this with the community,” Blake said. “Our main message is just ‘thank you’ for saying yes to these kiddos. I can’t imagine what we would be like in a position maintenance budget wise if we had one more older building.”
For the 2019-20 school year, Siuslaw Middle School is projected to have up to 360 students, an increase from previous years.
“We usually have around 300, but because of our class sizes coming in from the elementary school, there’s three in a row that are all hitting next year at the middle school,” Blake said. “We’ve been able to absorb that capacity. This year, we were able to add in general funds to add an aide at each grade level. We’ve hired an additional certified teacher for the staff, and so we’ve been able to manage all that with our current building and keep the flow of everything going. It’s awesome.”
The district has also been able to keep up with maintenance requirements at the middle school due to the newness of the systems.
“The bond reset the clock on that whole building in order for us to keep up on that routine maintenance,” Blake said. “We are proud that we have been able to maintain as expected, and there have been no surprises or additional money that has needed to be spent on it that we didn’t already plan for.”
The district will now work with the State of Oregon to determine next steps.
“We are proud to say because the taxpayers paid their bills, and paid them timely, we were able to put it in specific funds specifically for debt service,” Blake said. “It generated enough interest to have just under $650,000 left over after all bond proceeds have been paid. Our idea at the school district would be to roll that into future projects to continue, maybe even some of the upgrades that are coming due as normal maintenance after 20 years.”
She cautioned that Siuslaw School District would have to work with the state to make sure there aren’t further challenges, and any projects would have to be approved per state laws.
“Our goal is to continue to put that money right back into our properties. … It doesn’t go to salaries or general operations or anything like that. It would be dedicated to capital projects,” she added.
In conclusion, “We want to thank the taxpayers for saying yes and seeing the project through,” Blake said. “Now we have a wonderful building that we’ve been able to keep maintenance up on and everything, and it will continue to serve us well for quite a while.”
For more information on the Siuslaw School District, visit siuslaw.k12.or.us.
Update: According to Blake, although the original length of the bond was planned to be 21 years, the school district paid it on time, not early. Other expenses have been paid off early, just not the middle school bond.