ASHLAND – The Ashland-Greenwood Board of Education approved a resolution to put a $59 million bond issue on the ballot in November.
The voters in the school district will decide on Nov. 3 if the bond issue passes. The school district would issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $59 million to pay for construction of a new elementary school building and a new middle school building with a competition gym and fine arts auditorium.
At their regular meeting Monday night, the board heard from several members of the public before they voted on the resolution. Five district patrons stated they were in favor of placing the entire bond issue on the ballot, while two people asked that the bond issue be split into two ballot items, with the elementary school on one and the middle school/gym/auditorium on the other.
Those in favor of the keeping the bond issue as one ballot item cited the rapidly escalating enrollment growth as one reason to build both schools at the same time.
One reason for enrollment growth is the number of houses being built in the district. The Whitetail Estates subdivisions is just getting started, with 150 homes planned for the next decade, but seems to be growing faster than expected, said Liz Flynn.
Another 150-home development is in the works, according to local attorney Dave Lutton, who is also the Ashland area’s representative on the Saunders County Board of Supervisors. Evan Welch, a 2002 Ashland-Greenwood graduate who buys homes with the brother, Nolan, to turn into rental properties, said the city has plenty of room to grow to the west and in the direction of Mahoney State Park to the southeast.
“I think we’re going to be seeing even more aggressive growth than seen in the last few years,” Welch said.
While there’s plenty of room to build houses in the Ashland area, there is a lack of space in the classrooms, according to Tanya McVay, a parent who said one of her children spent the last school year in a classroom created out of a former janitor’s closet.
McVay also said programs are being cut because of the lack of space, which is an issue for one of her children, who is a high ability learner. Her son hoped to take computer science classes, but they are not being offered.
“Other kids like him need those other options for classes to keep them interested,” she said.
Libal said the district has eliminated upper level Spanish, industrial tech and wood tech classes because there is not enough room.
McVay said her children were going to be homeschool this year because of health reasons, but they will be back in the classroom as soon as it is safe.
There are 18 students total who are being homeschooled this school year because of COVID-19, said Superintendent Jason Libal. He considers them part of the school population, because without the pandemic they would be in school.
Counting them, there are 1,068 students in grades K-12 in the district, Libal said. That is up 62 students from just one year ago.
Ashland resident and retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Shirley Niemeyer echoed the need for more space to enhance learning.
“I know we’re talking about buildings, but what goes on inside there is what’s important,” she said.
According to Niemeyer’s research, crowded classrooms can negatively affect a student’s ability to learn.
“Space can make a difference,” she said.
Brothers and farmers Rick and Randy Beranek acknowledged that there is a need to expand facilities, but questioned whether such a big bond issue is needed at this time.
“Folks, this isn’t time economically to have a $60 million project, I’m sorry,” said Randy Beranek, who served on the Ashland-Greenwood school board for 12 years, is a member of the AGPS Foundation, is a former Bluejay wrestling coach and an alumnus of the school.
“It surprises me that in the middle of a pandemic…we’re rolling out a $60 million project,” said Rick Beranek, who graduated from AGHS in 1976 and had three children who graduated from the district as well.
They asked the school board to split the bond issue into two parts to make the idea more palatable to voters.
“If we could do one building there would be very little opposition, according to the people I’ve talked to,” said Randy Beranek.
Rick Beranek said building just the elementary school would “keep us going for a long time.”
Randy Beranek said the school board jumped from proposing to build just an elementary school to adding on the middle school/gym/auditorium, which he said would double the space that the district has now. Yet he doesn’t believe enrollment will double in the next two years, meaning at least 30% of the building will sit vacant.
“That doesn’t make much sense,” he said.
He added that the district has “absorbed” the new students successfully so far.
“We’ve accommodated them,” answered Board Member Karen Stille. “But is that the best way?”
When the school board began discussing the resolution to put the issue on the ballot, Board Member Eric Beranek made a motion to amend the resolution and split the bond issue into two ballot items. Board Member Russ Westerhold seconded the motion. Beranek and Westerhold voted for the amendment, but the other four members of the school board did not, so the motion failed.
Before the board voted on the entire $59 million bond issue, Westerhold told the rest of the board that he struggled with this issue but in the end was willing to vote for the resolution after hearing that the rest of the board was committed to financing the bond for 30 years and looking for donations to reduce costs.
Eric Beranek prefaced his vote by saying that he still felt the voters should have the opportunity to vote separately on the elementary school and the middle school/gym/auditorium.
“By me voting no, I’m not putting it out there that we don’t need something,” he said. “I just think it’s fair to the community to give them that option.”
Eric Beranek’s “no” vote was the only one. The rest of the board voted to approve the resolution. The bond issue will be on the ballot in the November General Election.
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