Van Buren residents will have the opportunity Tuesday to vote to increase funding for the school district.
The proposal includes the restructuring of bonds, which would generate one-time revenue totaling approximately $8 million for VBSD. It also includes a three-mill increase, which would generate roughly $1 million per year for much needed facility improvements, including replacing the district’s aging bus fleet, updating classroom technology and building a more competitive salary schedule.
Funds from the bond restructuring, which will come at no additional annual cost to taxpayers, will be combined with VBSD’s building fund of $4 million for several projects, according to Dr. Harold Jeffcoat, superintendent. These dollars will be combined with state matching funds to address a number of facility issues throughout the district.
In anticipation of the upcoming election, some VBSD principals shared their thoughts on how a successful election would support learning and benefit students and teachers.
On the list of proposed projects, six schools are slated for replacements of the existing roofs, with five of those also in need of new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. Butterfield Trail Middle School is among those requiring both.
“At Butterfield, our roof is in great need of replacement, with multiple patches in place to combat leaks that keep getting worse,” said Principal Dr. Karen Endel. “Our teachers continue to teach, but some have had buckets in their classrooms, to catch water that has leaked through while waiting on patches to the roof.”
Endel also cited the building’s HVAC system as a continual issue for her students and teachers.
“Our HVAC is also very old and in constant need of repair,” she said. “This causes learning issues for our students, when they are uncomfortable in hot classrooms, or ones where the heat isn’t working. Our maintenance guys work hard to fix issues, and handle them as quickly as possible. However, students are still dealing with a time period without an optimal learning environment.”
Tate Elementary School is plagued by a leaky roof and HVAC system, as well as a waste treatment system that is both outdated and undersized, according to Principal Dr. Robert Childers.
“It requires the district to spend money and man hours to keep it maintained, monitored, and running properly,” he said. “A new system would undoubtedly be more efficient and would save the district money over the long haul.”
Childers also said the building’s HVAC and roof are dire and in need of replacement.
“The HVACs routinely break down and require a great deal of maintenance to keep them up and running,” he said.T”ate’s roof is very leaky at multiple points throughout the building and desperately needs to be replaced. Tate students, and all of the VBSD’s students, deserve to attend school in a facility that is comfortable and conducive to learning.”
Northridge Middle School also is due for a new HVAC and roof and has experienced some problems due to the aging structure. Excess revenue would also enable VBSD to partner with FEMA to construct a tornado safe room on the campus, which is located in an area of town that has experienced tremendous growth in the last several years.
Principal Lonnie Mitchell said, “The tornado safe room will provide much needed security during bad weather for students, staff, and community members. In addition, the room will provide additional space for other activities. We currently have physical education classes using hallways as activity areas.”
Joyce Sanders, Rena Elementary principal, echoed many of the same concerns as her fellow administrators. Her school has its original roof and most of the original HVAC units, which require significant maintenance.
“We started the year with a broken HVAC unit in one of our fifth grade classes,” Sanders said. “We put fans in the room and the teacher kept her door open so some of the air from the hall would enter her room. That situation was less than optimal for learning. The kids actually cheered and clapped when the unit was repaired and turned on.”
Sanders believes that the time has come to get to the root of the problem in order to best serve students.
“If you think about your own home, there comes a point when patching ceases to be the best choice,” she said. “Our students deserve to have a cool place to learn in the heat of summer and a warm place to learn in winter. If they are too hot or too cold, it is very difficult to focus on learning. We want our students to know we care about them by providing them with clean, well maintained, comfortable facilities.”
If passed, the additional revenue would also be used to replace the roof and HVAC system at Central Elementary School, the roof at Parkview Elementary and to renovate the serving area of the cafeteria at Van Buren High School, in order to expand meal service options for students. The district also will seek FEMA partnership funds to construct a tornado safe room at City Heights Elementary.
Early voting will continue Monday at the Crawford County Emergency Operations Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for the election.