USD 475

The potential for a new Junction City High School brings with it the potential for economic development, if the structure can be built without raising taxes. It’s this last part that’s a big “if” for the Economic Development Commission. The EDC might be interested in endorsing the project — the keyword here being “might” — if its sufficiently convinced the project can be done without a mill levy hike.

Thursday, EDC director Mickey Fornaro-Dean and a handful of EDC members attended a special presentation by Unified School District 475 Superintendent Corbin Witt at the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library.

Though funding in the state is in question — the Kansas Supreme Court recently declared school funding unconstitutional on the basis of inadequacy — Witt believes the money will be there.

“We know what would happen right now — right now, if we passed the bond issue the state would pick up 48 percent of the cost,” Witt said. “There has been some talk amongst legislators that they would like to go back to the way the bond and interest formula was before the cut.”

This would raise the amount paid by the state to 69 percent.

Even if the bond passes now, if the legislature chose to return to the old bond and interest formula, the district would still be matched by the state for 69 percent.

“Right now, worst-case scenario — 48 percent match. Best case scenario — 69 percent match,” Witt said.

This constitutes about $50 million. 

After July 1 — the start of the new fiscal year — the district doesn’t know what will happen. But right now, if the bond passes, the state will pay for it, Witt said.

“We will keep the mill levy flat,” he said. “I can tell you, this project will not raise the mill levy. When we make a promise to the community, we intend to keep it.”

Attendees had several questions after the presentation, including questions about the future of the Freshman Success Academy.

Witt said the FSA has several future options, including becoming a home for the Boys and Girls Club, space for alternative schooling, or a space for an area community college or tech school.

The subject came up of why USD 475 wanted to hold a bond election when it had so much of its funding for the project already in place.

Witt said the state wouldn’t pay its 48 percent match without a bond election.

“They’re not going to write a check for $48 million, what they’re going to do is maybe pay $2 million a year for 25 years to pay off the bond,” he said. “The only cash we’ll have on hand is the heavily-impacted aid dollars.”

The project may cost less than $105 million, something that came up during the discussion. $105 million is just a spending limit. The figure is based on a 347,000 square foot site building site. 

The example was used of Garden City, which came in under its bond issue of $85 million by $7 million. There’s a possibility the district may end up with money left over, which it would have to decide what to do with. School officials will deal with this if and when they come to it.

Bond money must be used on what the community passed the bond for — so the funds would need to go toward the high school.

EDC members also wondered if a new school would increase operational costs or if someone might lose their job due to the new building.

Witt’s answer to both questions was no.

He said he believed operational costs would be mitigated by a newer, more efficient building. Witt will know more about transportation costs after officials have a site picked out. He said it was unlikely anyone would lose their job, even if the new school made a position obsolete.

“We can usually do things through attrition, and not have to fire somebody,” Witt said. 

Neither the number of military-impacted students at the school nor the overall student population would effect bond payments.

If the bond issue fails, the district may bring this issue before the public again next year, after revamping the bond.

Potential Gains

If things go according to plan, here are some of the benefits a new JCHS could bring Junction City.

• The new building could improve Junction City’s overall reputation.

According to Corbin Sanner, a JCHS sophomore who sat on the steering committee for this project, students who come from around the state to compete in sporting events at the high school refer to Junction City as “junk town.” This is, Sanner believes, largely because of the high school’s outdated facilities.

• A new school could draw more people to Junction City. According to officials, soldiers’ families often heavily base their decisions on where to live — in Junction City, on post, or in Manhattan — based on the quality of the school system.

“The high school is the flagship of your educational system,” Witt said. “I do think the high school is an economic draw to the community.”

• A new school could increase revenue from hotel stays and sales tax. With better facilities, the school could host more tournaments and events, bringing in tourists. When tourists visit Junction City and stay overnight, they find themselves spending money at local stores, attractions, and restaurants.

If things don’t go according to plan and the district doesn’t receive any portion of the funding it needs to build a school without raising the mill levy, the project will be scrapped, according to USD 475 officials.

Before the EDC decides to endorse the JCHS project — or not — it needs to gather as much information as possible.

The same goes for the public. 

USD 475 is planning to host two town hall meetings in April. The public — especially those who have doubts or questions about how USD plans to fund this project — are strongly encouraged to attend.

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