Okoboji Community Schools listens to public comment on failed Ap - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Okoboji Community Schools listens to public comment on failed April middle school vote

Parents and community members voice their opinions in a Tuesday evening public fourm to Okoboji Community School board members. Parents and community members voice their opinions in a Tuesday evening public fourm to Okoboji Community School board members.

Voters in the Okoboji School District defeated a measure that school leaders hoped would fund the construction of a new middle school in April of 2015. The district has put the bond back on the ballot in the fall with an impending September 8th vote.

Tuesday, school officials tried to answer questions from voters, who already turned the measure back, once. "We're opening up to the public and finding out what questions they have," said Gary Janssen, Okoboji Community Schools Superintendent.

The ballot's first time around needed a simple majority, 50-percent of eligible voters in the district, to pass the measure. "The election only failed by 79 votes so it was very, very close and we had a pretty good turnout," said Janssen.

The school board is regrouping. Transparency was an issue for some in the public the first time around.

"We have people in the public... who didn't think we shared enough information (and) don't think we listened well enough to the public," said Janssen. "One of them is I think a method of which we provided them information."

"All the information we provided was on the district website and newspaper."

Janssen also says an email was sent to all parents. Still questions linger over how the school will be paid for. The new middle school, which would be added to the existing high school in Milford, would cost an estimated $14.7 million.

The school board says they can afford it by increasing the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy from 33-cents per thousand dollars property valuation to a dollar-34 per thousand for ten years.

"We're looking at a long term solution for the district which is something that would work for the next 20-30 years," said Janssen.

Parents ponder what happens if the estimate falls short of actual construction costs. Another option the school could have gone with, in terms of financing a bond, is a general obligation bond. School officials believe increasing the P.P.E.L levy is the districts best route. They say it adds more flexibility in distribution of the raised funds.

Among other concerns the new middle school wouldn't fall within city limits. Issues over annexation Janssen says should be qualmed shortly. He says the appropriate paperwork has been filed to re-zone the property so it falls within city limits.

Some community members also asked who would handle the utilities for the school. School officials say it would change hands from Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, which powers the current middle school, to Milford Utilities.

Janssen says enrollment has increased which is why they need to expand. He says some 8th grade students currently are bussed to the high school in Milford, and then back to Arnolds Park for the remainder of their school day for certain classes.

Current enrollment in Okoboji Middle School is 284 students. Officials project that to increase to 302 students by 2019-2020.

Classroom space size is one thing school officials says is no longer conducive for the growing population. There is 201 square feet per student in Okoboji Middle School. The proposed middle school would beef that to 292 square feet per student. The school says space is such an issue that some classes meet in the school cafeteria. Overall. the new middle school would be 62,000 square feet, which is 19,000 more than the current school.

School officials say construction costs increase annually at a rate of 5 percent.

Voters will be asked to consider the proposal again on September 8th when it reaches the ballot again. Voters will be voting on approving Phase 1 of the project, the $14.7 million addition to the high school.

Phase 2 voting will be announced at a later date. Phase 2 involves the athletic facilities for the middle school. Officials estimate that will cost $4.2 million. Overall, bringing the entire proposed middle school to an estimated $18.9 million.

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