Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series taking a look at the proposed 1 percent school facility sales tax that will be on the March 18 primary ballot.
When it comes to the countywide school facility sales tax, Superintendent Mark Doan wants to deal in facts.
First, he believes there is a specific financial need facing the district associated with the upkeep of aging buildings. Second, if something isn't done, he believes taxpayers will eventually foot the bill from their property taxes. Third, the tax would allow students to consolidate into three buildings, which would provide for better education.
“Our staff does an amazing job handling things right now,” said Doan. “But if we got down to the three buildings, it would make it better for students and staff.”
Doan said downsizing the number of buildings would allow teachers and students to be better acquainted, noting students change buildings four to five times while attending Unit 40. But with declining state aid, Doan doesn't see a better way to make that happen that would not involve the property owners.
“Right now, the only way to meet the financial issues facing the district is to go back to property taxes,” he said.
The district, along with others in the county, is asking voters for a 1 percent sales tax increase in exchange for an abatement on property taxes. Doan asserts it is the most beneficial option considering the circumstances.
“From day one, I've been talking about the fact that we have building issues,” he said. “We have buildings that are older, and there are upcoming costs.”
School districts receive a review from architects every 10 years, called a Health Life Safety Survey. If issues are found with the heating and cooling systems, roofs, asbestos, etc., the district is obligated to have them fixed. Central Grade School recently had $4.17 million in renovation work associated with such a survey. Doan also pointed to $350,000 in roof damage to Effingham High School last year and water damage at Early Learning Center as examples of unexpected costs incurred by the district.