Board puts new high school in hands of voters

By Lindsey Gordon , Anthony Antoine |

Published 06/06 2014 11:10PM

Updated 08/15 2014 10:23AM

Latest: 10:02 pm, 8/14/14, Thursday
MONTICELLO -- The school district wants to build a new high school. Now they just need voters to pay for it. The school board decided Thursday night to put two tax hike questions on the November 4 ballot.

It will be up to voters in Monticello and all of Piatt County to decide if the district will build a new high school and renovate the existing one to consolidate elementary schools.

"I feel that we have outgrown the school. There's definitely a need for a new high school," said Patricia Wienke, a parent of two Monticello kids. She’s waiting in the car at her son’s football practice.

Only one of her kids would get to enjoy the new high school if it’s approved.

"We've been talking about it for several years and I think it's time to make a decision and move on," said Wienke.

The ballot will ask people for two things: a 1% sales tax increase, which would pay for renovations, and a $40 million bond, for the new high school. The bond would raise property taxes by $150 for an home worth $100,000.

"Your high school's so much a part of your community. Your high school is usually your highest employer. It adds a lot to a community," said Roland Cooper, a father of two Monticello High students.

All seemed to agree with Cooper at the school board meeting. His kids will graduate before a new school could go up, but he started supporting the cause for a new school when he toured the old one.

"To actually go through the buildings really brought it home in terms of the age of the building, lighting, whether or not the building's actually efficient and conducive to a 21st-century school," said Cooper.

Now he just needs to convince his fellow voters to get behind the idea.

"You'll probably see more signs in yards and maybe more community forums where we bring people in perhaps on a weekend or evening to provide them more insight," said Cooper.

Wienke thinks there will be a new school, because there’s enough support for both measures to pass.

"We're proud of our school district. We're proud of what we offer here and so, at this point, we cannot continue to grow until we make some changes," she said.

No one gave public comment at Thursday’s meeting. District superintendent Vic Zimmerman says it was still one of the highest attendances they’ve seen. There were about 20 people in the audience.
Update: 5:01 pm, 8/14/14, Thursday
MONTICELLO -- The Monticello School Board is hours away from making a big decision which could change the future of the district. The board wants to build a new school and renovate others. But, before that can happen, voters need to support a $40 million bond and one percent tax hike in Piatt County.

The school board spent about three years discussing the issue; two of those with the community. Thursday night, they'll take action and decide if people get a say this November. The $40 million bond will be used to build a new high school, turn the old one into a kindergarten - 5th grade campus and close two schools.

Wednesday night, other school districts in the county took action on the sales tax. Towns like Bement and Cerro Gordo already agreed to put it on November's ballot. The superintendent says that's a good sign and it's time to make a move on fixing the schools.

For a home with a value of $100,000, you would see a close to $200 increase in property taxes. If the community votes "yes," the district will start focusing on the design of the school. If the answer is "no," the superintendent says they'll listen to the community's concerns, regroup and come up with another plan.

Earlier this year, the district sent out questionnaires to parents about the referendum. The majority of the feedback wanted to support a new school.
Original: 10:01 pm, 6/7/14, Friday
MONTICELLO -- Heather Torrens is a business owner and mother of two kids in Monticello schools and she says, if she had a choice, she wouldn’t want to rebuild the high school. WCIA-3's Lindsey Gordon has the details.

"Right now I think we have the space, I just don't think it's being utilized properly and I think if we remodeled, I think we could do that more efficiently," she said.

But the district is giving parents like Torrens a chance to weight in. This week they sent out surveys asking what to do with the 91-year old building.
It needs new science labs, bigger gyms and air conditioning. They could remodel or rebuild it.

"I felt like we didn't need a huge, shiny, 21st century-looking building," said Torrens.

If there is a new school, the elementary schools would move into the old high school building.

"If that high school isn't appropriate for our high schoolers, why is it then appropriate for elementary children who are going to have to use that space?" said Torrens.

"I'm more apt to redo what they have. Because they have good schools," said John Padgett, who is a 30-year resident of Monticello.

The district says building a new school would cost $40 million, while renovating would cost $32 million.

Consolidating the elementary schools to the high school site would save the district $500,000, according to superintendent Victor Zimmerman.

"I think you can make the numbers look however you want to," said Padgett.

Either way, to pay for it, property or sales tax would have to go up. That keeps business owners like Torrens paying attention.

"We're funding our children's futures and that I don't have a problem with," she said.

Voters will first have to approve the new school. That vote would come in the fall. The school would be ready to open in the fall of 2017.

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