Saturday, November 26, 2005

Vacating Aurora Elementary

Everyone knows that South Dearborn is engaged in a major building project. What they may not understand is how much that project will cost them in the end.

In December of 2004, bonds were issued for the project. The public was told they totaled $34.74 million. But when you add up the columns of the Final Pricing Wire they total $37.92 million. The proceeds of that bond issue were actually over 40 million dollars.

This fall the board had a public budget hearing and printed the proposed budget in this newspaper. There was no media coverage of this event. A little addition and subtraction revealed that South Dearborn’s proposed 2006 budget was nearly $6.5 million more than 2004 actual expenditures. The majority of this increase can be found in the Debt Service and Capital Project funds. According to the coupon schedule for the bonds, South Dearborn residents will be paying nearly 1.77 million for interest payments beginning 2005. There is a total of 3.875 million in the unanimously passed 2006 budget for Debt Service alone. Additionally, 4.53 million has been allocated for capitol projects. That totals more than 8.4 million dollars.

December 12, 2003 Tom Book, Superintendent of SDCSC, issued a memo that stated building capacities on the South Dearborn campus would be as follows: South Dearborn High School 1050 students, South Dearborn Middle School 550 students and Aurora Elementary 700 students. Current enrollment for each of these student populations is 991 for SDHS, 501 for SD seventh and eighth grade students and 636 for Aurora students Pre K through grade 6. The new project has a capacity to exceed current student population by 172 students.

The corporation obviously expects more significant growth than that. They projected an increase in property valuation of over 60 million dollars. I haven’t heard of any major industrial projects to be added to our tax base, but there is a housing project of 280 homes in planning for Washington Township. Washington Township is part of the Aurora Elementary district. It has been estimated that a project of that magnitude could increase the student population by as many as 644 children. Even if the project resulted in only half those students, the additional 322 students would be more than double the expected available student capacity.

South Dearborn Community School Corporation plans to vacate Aurora Elementary in January of 2007. Aurora Elementary has a few flaws. It is too small for the current student population and programs. But frankly it is in much better shape than Dillsboro Elementary School. Another school South Dearborn plans to sink $2 million dollars into.

It has been proposed that the City of Aurora trade the debt acquired by South Dearborn for Aurora’s new water tower for Aurora Elementary School. Another suggestion is that it be given to the YMCA. It should be noted South Dearborn already gave a building to the City of Aurora and Aurora in turn gave it to the YMCA. Four years ago that completed building sat vacant in a forest of weeds. It took a letter from Dave Koehler, South Dearborn’s former superintendent, issued to the press to get the YMCA to take responsibility of the building.

Perhaps the city could make good use of the building. But ultimately, the building will be maintained at tax payer expense. The building was designed to be a school and it can work quite well as a school for the appropriate number of students. With the expected growth in population the vacating of this building by South Dearborn Community School will cost taxpayers more than they are likely able to bear.

But more importantly, Aurora students will be sent to an Elementary School more than twice the recommended size. When it comes to socialization, school size matters. Multiple studies have found nearly every negative social outcome for children...drug abuse, depression, delinquency, truancy, violence and suicide is directly related to the size of their school. Aurora has more than its share of those problems. If our community continues on this path, don’t expect the quality of life in this community to improve.

Local politicians and administrators better think long and hard about what they are doing to our children. It isn’t too late to come up with better solutions.

Karen Loveland

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