Shifting economic conditions are driving up estimated cost of major project
Kearney, Mo., January 10, 2023: The Kearney School District Board of Education has decided to pause the construction of the fifth elementary school in order to discuss whether that project is the best use of public resources.
During a work session tonight, School Board members and district administrators talked through this move to reconsider building a new elementary school. Superintendent Emily Miller explained that the dialogue was prompted by rapidly changing economic conditions that are driving up the estimated cost of the project.
“Our community has always done a great job of planning ahead and preparing for change,” Dr. Miller said. “We must always be good stewards of public resources and operate openly. That is why we are re-evaluating our facility needs. We will also continue to move forward on the other projects included under the Prop B bond.”
In 2021, staff and community members worked together to evaluate development trends and craft a plan to meet the district’s facility needs for the next several years. One of the results of this plan was the recommendation to build a new elementary school. The plan also called for renovations to existing the elementary schools in order to manage growth and help ensure that all KSD students can have excellent educational experiences. Residents approved the Prop B zero-tax-rate-increase bond on the April 2022 ballot in order to make this plan a reality.
Unfortunately, KSD needs to rethink plans for a new elementary school due to some serious challenges. Supply chain shortages persist, inflation is soaring, and a recession looms. Public school districts across the state have yet to see enrollment recover to pre-pandemic levels. Even well-respected economic experts failed to predict these conditions and their impact on businesses, school districts and households alike.
“We always want to use public funds in the most responsible and efficient way possible,” Dr. Miller said. “We will share information and gather feedback, including input from the community, over the next several weeks in order to help the School Board to make an informed decision.”
The fifth elementary school project is still in the planning stages. Construction has not started nor has the land been purchased for this project.
The alternatives to a fifth elementary school might include renovations and additions to KSD’s existing elementary schools, which could potentially save millions of dollars in operational expenses that would have otherwise been needed for additional personnel, materials and supplies, and utility costs.
Depending on the Board’s priorities, KSD will need to start a discussion about increasing the district’s operating fund levy. This may include the objectives in KSD’s new strategic plan, which was built by parents/guardians, students, staff and neighbors. Their top priorities included increased safety and security, support for expanded learning opportunities for students, and addressing competitive salaries for staff, all of which will also require additional funding.
School Board President Darlene Bailey expressed the full Board’s support for the decision to pause construction of the fifth elementary school and said the Board members are looking forward to engaging with the community about this issue.
“As a Board, we’re thankful for the thought and consideration everyone involved has put into this decision,” Dr. Bailey said. “I’m extremely pleased with Dr. Miller and the administration for their hard work and leadership, and I’m confident this process will result in an even better plan for our students, staff and residents.”
Plans are in the works to give KSD community members the opportunity to understand the situation, ask questions and offer suggestions. These engagement efforts will likely include a survey conducted by an outside firm. For now, questions, concerns and ideas may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.