The potential purchase of land and the effects of late assessments were among topics discussed at Monday’s Waterloo School Board meeting.
Although Superintendent Brian Charron brought the land purchase idea to the board for future consideration, it is still in its infancy.
“This is more of just a long-term, open discussion about deciding whether we need to acquire land,” Charron said.
The land is across from Zahnow Elementary off Rogers Street. The approximately 28-acre property is currently owned by the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, which bought it several years ago as a future site for a new Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School.
That project never materialized.
Charron said the district may need the land because of increased enrollment seen in recent years.
“This is more of us just needing to know what is available out there because we’re running out of classrooms,” he explained. “We’re near capacity at a couple buildings and we’re turning closets into offices for some of our people.”
Charron said Waterloo High School was built with plenty of room to expand, but that is not the case for the district’s older buildings.
The idea to acquire this land is in the earliest of stages, with the board not even knowing if it wants to make an offer.
Charron said he has begun the process, with the board’s attorney drafting a resolution for adoption should they decide to make an offer.
Charron said with the information currently available to him, he thinks the land may be a viable place to construct another building if needed.
“That land is conveniently located in the area of our other elementary buildings, and for that reason would be a great place if we ever had to expand,” Charron said. “I don’t think there’s a downfall to us acquiring that land.”
If the board decides not to buy more land, Charron said the district might be able to use existing lands on school property to expand.
“I think it’s time for us to take inventory of what all of the options are before we start committing to one specific direction,” he said.
It would be months before the district would buy the land if it decides to go that route.
In another financial matter, Charron updated the situation facing the district due to a delay in property tax assessments.
“Unfortunately, what is going to be another countywide problem this year, even worse than last, is probably you all, haven’t paid your tax bills yet,” Charron said. “When 75 percent of our revenue comes from you and you haven’t paid anything yet, that means we don’t have the money.”
According to Charron, a county official told him it may not be until December or January until local school districts receive their funds. Charron said he and other superintendents have attempted to expedite the process to no avail.
Without the money from property taxes, the district must take other steps to pay its bills.
“We will have to do some major cancellation of bonds that we had invested in and we’ll be forfeiting a lot of interest in order to get by,” Charron said. “So, it’s revenue that we’re not making.”
“We are fortunate that we at least have some money in the bank and can cash out investments and get by,” Charron added. “Districts that don’t have that, I don’t know what they’re doing.”
Local school districts have had to cope with this problem for the past few years, which Charron said concerns him.
“What’s great about local property taxes is it is our most reliable source of income, but we just can’t rely on how soon we’re going to be getting it,” he said. “I’m hopeful this is not a pattern, but I’m afraid this has become one because it has been later and later every year.”
The board also approved several items, including authorizing Charron to enter into two contract agreements.
The first is a health/life safety survey for WHS that costs $16,000.
Every school must have this done by a third party every 10 years. This marks the first time the high school has had it done.
The third party identifies categories of deficiency in the school as it relates to safety.
“We’re not expecting a whole lot (of deficiencies),” Charron said.
The other contract was for $24,362.44 for 15 new cafeteria tables at Rogers Elementary.
Rogers Elementary Principal Brian Smith said these will replace the original tables, which are falling apart, heavy and inflexible.
Smith also said the tables will help accommodate the increase in students he expects when students move up from Zahnow Elementary.