• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board to host public forum on high school funding options

People in the community will soon have an opportunity to share their views on how the Woodford County Board of Education should proceed with building a new Woodford County High School and how to pay for it. At Monday’s board meeting, board member Sherri Springate explained why she thought it was important to schedule a community forum to discuss funding options for a new high school, as well as the long- and short-term consequences of each option. A date was not scheduled for the community forum, but the board tentatively agreed to have a work session at 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, to discuss financial options for building a new high school and setting a date for the forum. Springate’s request for a community forum came one week after board member Dani Bradley suggested the board restrict $250,000 generated by a non-recallable 4 percent property tax increase, so the district can borrow enough money to build a complete high school rather than proceed with phased construction. For now, Bradley agreed to table her proposal. “I’m certainly happy to talk about it with the community and hear from them,” she said. “I agree with what Sherri said, we should always be willing to get community input.” Springate said she’s not advocating for one option over another to pay for a new high school, but felt it’s important to have an open discussion about the pros and cons of the options. She said having a community forum provides a platform for people to ask questions and provide input. “The options that have been talked about and considered – whether that be the restriction of general fund (dollars for 20 years) or the nickel that was pursued (and defeated by a majority of voters in June 2018) – those options all include tax increases,” said schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins. He said because both scenarios to pay for a high school involve tax increases, “I do think it’s wise to sit down with our community to look at the short-term and the long-term (financial) implications of all the options – to get feedback, to let our community ask us questions so that … we can make the most informed decision possible. “With all that being said,” he added, “I’m not advocating for the nickel tax to be passed. I am simply saying it’s time for our community to weigh in on these two options.” He noted if any district was able to restrict money and not raise taxes and still build schools “every district would do it. But that’s not the case. I am not aware of any district that has built a high school with restricted funds.” Board Vice Chair Debby Edelen said two options have been discussed in open meetings, but there may be others that haven’t been considered. “That is the one thing I did take away from the failed nickel vote was that we have to listen to the community,” Springate said. Before the board voted unanimously to have a public forum on funding options for a new high school, board member Allison Richardson questioned the rationale of having a forum now – after a 4 percent tax increase (from 68.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 69.3 cents) was already approved by the board on Sept. 12. “I feel like this was a direct delay to what Dani has coming up later on the agenda (a plan to restrict additional tax dollars to build a complete high school) because we have to have a budget approved by the 30th (of September),” Richardson said. “Can we do an amended budget after that point?” The board unanimously approved a $60.768 million working budget for the 2019-20 school year after being assured by Hawkins that the budget can be amended until the end of the fiscal year: June 2020. With that assurance, Bradley said she was “more than willing” to table her plan to restrict tax revenue generated by the 4 percent rate hike to pay for a $45.2 million high school. The board voted last year to restrict $600,000 out of its general fund to bolster its bonding potential. Board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV was again absent, so Edelen chaired Monday’s meeting. Wilson announced that he was taking a leave of absence at the end of a special meeting on Sept. 12. Construction manager The board voted unanimously to select Trace Creek as its construction manager for the high school project. Before Bradley made the motion to employ Trace Creek, board members agreed all five of the companies that made presentations had impressive credentials. Two of the board members, Edelen and Richardson, were not present for the presentations, but said they were comfortable with moving forward to hire Trace Creek based on what they’ve reviewed about the company in terms of work history and references. Based on a current budget of $37 million for a new high school, Trace Creek will receive compensation of about $800,000 for overseeing the construction of the school. Payments will be made for services rendered, according to Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith. But a majority of those payments are typically made during actual construction, added project architect Ron Murrell, of RossTarrant Architects. Board security The board ratified a payment of $216.64 to the Versailles Police Department for providing security at its Aug. 20 and 26 meetings. Springate, who voted no on Richardson’s motion, which passed 3 to 1, said she did not “believe this bill should be paid by taxpayers” if a board member is acting outside the scope of their authority. Edelen described a board member asking for security at a public meeting as “a totally valid request.” She suggested it might be helpful if the board approved a policy to address such situations going forward. “We have a lot of people coming to our meetings now, and we need to protect them as well,” said Edelen. Parents criticized Richardson at the Aug. 26 meeting for her social media post of a man wearing a sombrero with the words: Mexican Word of the Day – ice smelter. Richardson apologized for her “tasteless” Facebook post at the meeting. At the Aug. 20 meeting, Richardson said she had no plans to resign her seat on the board. She told the Sun that the media coverage about her Facebook memes was a distraction from the ongoing issues related to “the relationship that the board has had over the last few months.” Public comment The board did not take any action on how it’ll respond to public comment after Springate provided examples of how a response would largely depend on the question or concern. “It opens you up for a huge margin of error to be put on the spot with a question in a public meeting and … be expected to respond,” said Richardson. The first-year board member said she would have loved to have responded to “the blatant lies that had been shared about me. I would’ve loved to have responded at that point, but it would’ve opened me up to even more controversy. (She did not explain the nature of the lies directed at her, and the Sun was unable to reach her for comment Tuesday.) “I think as board members, it’s our responsibility to listen.” She said board members can respond to a constituent’s question by email and other means without answering their questions in a public meeting. “I’m not suggesting that we would get into a give and take or that we would necessarily handle that (a question) right at that meeting, at that moment,” said Springate. “You can always say, ‘I’m not sure about that. Let me check and I’ll get back with you.’ “I think the public really wants transparency. They really want responsiveness. They really want us as board members to hear their concerns and then address them,” she added. Bradley pointed out that public comment at government meetings are typically an opportunity for people to speak about a topic of concern, which she and Edelen agreed is typically a one-way conversation.

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