BEATRICE – Beatrice Public Schools officials held the first of three informational meetings Tuesday night, on the need to replace pre-kindergarten through fifth grade buildings in the district. The session at 402 Sports Bar and Grill drew about 25 people.
Superintendent Jason Alexander says the district is facing fire, health, safety and building code deficiencies in its 1950s set of elementary buildings.
"We have violations that I'm going to explain to you and we have basically, health and safety situations that our kids are living in on a day-to-day basis for 175 days a year...which means that's probably almost more time than they're spending at home, with you."
Alexander showed slides of deficient water, air handling and mechanical systems present in the buildings, along with security concerns where entrances to schools cannot be adequately monitored.
School Board member Eric Book, who twice voted against bond issues for a new prekindergarten through fifth grade building, said taking a tour of the inside of the buildings as a board member has changed his position on the need.
"I witnessed HVAC systems, electrical and plumbing completely out of date. Some serious safety issues there. But, number one on my list is security. I'm a Marine Corps veteran....if you ask any other veteran or service person, safety risk and threat assessment is ingrained in us. As I walk down those Lincoln hallways, Lincoln(elementary) school...I just sat there for a second and saw the glass from floor to the ceiling....looked at the road out there...we wouldn't even have to have an active shooter come into the school. He, or she could just shoot from the roads, into the school. So, if someone is in the schools, there's no safe area....anywhere."
Voters in District 15 soundly rejected elementary school bond issues in 2015 and 2016….and it took four bond issue attempts before a new high school was approved more than twenty years ago. Alexander says district officials are considering another means to accomplish a new building, without raising taxes. A lease-purchase option is being studied….a method allowed by law which Alexander says has been successful in districts like Douglas County West and David City.
"We levy a dollar-five....we're capped at that...that's as much as we can levy, according to state statute. So what we do...this last year we put six cents into the building fund....the rest we use to do operating expenses for everything out of our general fund. And, it all comes down to how many cents can we put into that special building fund to prevent raising taxes and get the project done, to eliminate deficiencies and inefficiencies. We can put ten cents in there."
Alexander said paying for the project over a series of four, seven-year lease-purchase periods, using a 10-cent building fund levy, is workable. Energy, operational and personnel savings also help to pay off the project. "Bond issues in this community, don't have a very strong track record. There's a lot of reasons for that, a lot of dynamics. But at the end of the day, folks, it's been said and said and said again, taxes are the main reason."
School Board member Erin Chadwick said the district has heard the message of voters through bond issues and is trying to come up with a better way to solve a building deficiency problem in the district.
"The people have spoken time and time again that they don't want their taxes increased. So, we feel like with these proposals we're listening to the community and we're trying to find ways that won't increase your taxes...but will still solve our problem and give our students and teachers a better building, to be in."
School district 15 owns several acres north of Beatrice High School….a tract that is paid off and for several years has been rented for farm use…until it can be used by the district.