Massac Unit One school board members have been talking about the future of the school district for quite some time now. Word came last year the state’s Capital Development Board (CDB) may launch new school construction grants, and Unit One began taking the needed steps in order to apply for a school construction grant.
Twenty years ago the district had a total of ten buildings to maintain. The district was able to use CDB funds to build the current Brookport and Metropolis Elementary Schools and Massac Junior High School. The district eliminated Clark and Central schools, the old Metropolis Junior High School and eventually was able to make a deal with Southern Seven Health Department, to take ownership of the former Metropolis Middle School, where Southern Seven Head Start is now located.
Currently the district has eight buildings to maintain — Metropolis Elementary, Massac Junior High School, Brookport, Unity, Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools, Massac County High School and the Unit One administrative offices building.
That is a lot of utility and water bills and the district seems to spend even more money on the oldest buildings, which now are Unity, Jefferson and Franklin. Maintaining older buildings can get expensive. Just look at what Massac County commissioners have gone through in the past six years trying to renovate the county courthouse.
At the school board meeting, on Feb. 24 the board members heard the state may increase the amount it pays to 85% — from the normal 75% — leaving the district with $5 million to pay for a new, state-of-the-art school with a total price tag of $39 million. That is a very good deal. What makes the whole thing better is at the board meeting, the board members and Unit One Superintendent Jason Hayes discussed the district could finance the project by selling its bonds, without raising taxes on the citizens of Massac County. Now that is a really sweet deal.
The other topic brought up at the past several Unit One board meetings is the fact the enrollment at Jefferson, Franklin and Unity schools have been on the decline. At the most recent board meeting, Hayes said the projections show the decline in enrollment to continue. If enrollment is on the decline and there are fewer students at Franklin, Jefferson and Unity, then what sense would it make for the board to continue paying for the upkeep and maintenance on those oldest buildings?
Some people might think a new high school would be the best option, but actually wouldn’t be the best financial move. The cost of building a high school could exceed over $100 million and the state typically only funds high school construction grants at 50%, which would leave Unit One’s portion to pay being around $50 million. Chances are the district would not be able to foot the bill with that high of a price tag and taxpayers’ bills would go up.
This isn’t Unit One’s “first rodeo,” when it comes to school consolidation and school construction. When the new county-wide junior high school was built, there were a lot of public meetings and there were a lot of opinions expressed on both sides of the issues.
One of the points made at the time was from a parent who was in favor of the consolidation. The parent pointed out if there were a natural disaster and all three county schools were impacted, it might make it difficult on emergency personnel to try to get to the schools in a timely manner. That is another reason why a county-wide elementary school, situated near the high school and junior high would make a lot of sense. If there were an earthquake or God forbid, a situation involving an active shooter, the school would be close enough for law enforcement and emergency personnel to respond quickly.
Sure, there may be several people who think this is a bad idea, but chances are they have not attended a school board meeting, probably have not read and kept up-to-date on the issues the Unit One board is dealing with, and they haven’t been privy to seeing the district’s bills and income.
Sports may be a reason some people are against a county-wide elementary school. Sports was also an issue when Massac Junior High was constructed. But, the junior high was built and things settled down. Sports are an important part of a students’ education, but definitely not the only part, and we hope more people realize that and support the school board with its efforts of trying to construct a new elementary school.
The board has already said it will hold public meetings, though none have been scheduled as of press time. During the last school construction, the public seemed to feel the district and school board members were trying to spring school construction on the citizens. The current board has discussed declining enrollment and the high utility costs.
One thing, which will be different this time around, is the ever-present influence of social media. We shared a link on the Planet’s Facebook page about the article from the school board meeting and the link was quickly shared with several people chiming in on it.
Hopefully, Unit One’s application will be successful, and the district will receive the grant.
But, the main thing is hopefully our community has learned some lessons from 20 years ago and this time around, if the construction grant gets the green light the community will be supportive of the new school.