As the staff and board of Geary County Unified School District 475 Board of Education plan for the future they are considering the possibility of building a new elementary school.
“This is all concept discussion,” said David Wild, USD 475 chief operations officer. “It is not a solid plan. This is just the vision for the next 10 years. What does the Board of Education want its district to look like by the year 2025 to 2020, 2030.”
Funding for the proposed school would come from heavy impact aid, which is what was used for the new high school, Wild said.
Impact aid is funding that comes from the Department of Defense to cover the cost of a school district educating children of soldiers who do not pay property taxes.
“Heavy impact aid is more or less a one-time qualifying payment to school districts who are deemed heavily impacted by the Army,” Wild said. “We receive impact aid every year but heavy impact aid is a special windfall fund.”
There are three criteria to qualify for HIA. The district must meet all three for two consecutive years.
The school district must have a mill levy assessment that is at least 95% of the state average school district mill levy leveraging. They meet this requirement.
45% of the student population are military dependents. The district is at 51%.
The per capita expenditure per student cannot be more than the state average. The state average is about $11,500 per student. The district will need to cut some expenses because it is spending about $11,800.
“We do believe that we can set ourselves back up to re-qualify by cutting expenses,” Wild said. “We believe we’re going to qualify this year and then we’re angling toward qualifying again next year, which means we would receive the first of our impact aid payments in 2023.”
The district will need to trim about $2 million of its $120 million budget to meet the requirement. Wild said it’s feasible by focusing on programs that deliver the most impact.
“The teaching and learning department of the district will continue to have to refine what are its priorities, and then it will shed itself of those things that are not priorities,” he said.
Should they qualify, the district is set up to receive about $60 million, which is more than enough to cover an estimated $30 million school – what will the remaining $30 million would be put into other facilities across the district.
When complete, the new school could save the district between $3 million and $4 million a year.
The money saved will come from closing two to four schools. The new school would accommodate 500 students.
District staff will conduct an analysis of all of the district’s in-town schools and out-of-town schools grade schools to determine which ones remain viable, and which ones probably should be stood down, put in warming status or closed, he said.
Initial thoughts are that the district would maintain the buildings and keep them “minimally operational,” Wild said. If there were to be a surge in troop strength at Fort Riley, they could reopen them to meet demand.
“We’ve got more than a couple (schools) that only have 100 students,” he said. “You’ve got this huge overhead for very few students, and that’s part of what’s preventing us from qualifying for heavy impact aid on a recurring basis.”
Consolidating under a new school will reduce overhead allowing the district to requalify for the HIA and cut taxpayer costs in the future.
Staffing would be reduced through attrition, which is what the district did when they closed Jefferson Elementary School on Fort Riley.
The proposed location for the new elementary school is in the landbank on the northwest side of town near where the high school is being built.
The landbank is property that had started being developed in 2004 through 2008 when there was a push for new housing in Geary County. The city helped with the infrastructure and developed special benefit districts.
When the lots did not sell, the money didn’t get paid back to the city and the land became delinquent. It did not sell at a tax sale so the city gained ownership of it.
“We think that there is some doable areas up there that we would be willing to … probably donate the land to the school to build on,” said Allen Dinkel, Junction City city manage. “We’re talking north and a little bit east of the new high school.”
He said they are looking at about 17 acres in area that had been platted residential, but it will not take much work to adjust the infrastructure to accommodate the school.
Having the elementary school there could help entice developers to build in that area.
“We think long term it’s going to bring more development,” Dinkel said. “The high school is nearby, the middle school’s nearby — you’d have all the schools basically in your neighborhood. It’s nice to have a school near your home.”