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Following clean audit, Wentzville School District places no-tax-increase bond issue on April ballot

Students at Timberland High in the Wentzville School District [Photo by WSD]

On Dec. 21, the Wentzville School District’s Board of Education unanimously voted to place a $125 million no-tax-increase bond issue known as Proposition E on the April 3 ballot to accommodate the district’s steadily rising enrollment rates and prevent overcrowding in many of the district’s schools.

The approval and passage of Proposition E, which stands for “Excellence in Education for Everyone,” would include construction of a new high school at West Meyer and North Point Prairie and a new gymnasium for Holt High. A new elementary school also has been proposed along with additions to multiple classrooms at Barfield Early Childhood Special Education Center, Peine Ridge Elementary and Pearce Hall.

According to district Superintendent Dr. Curtis Cain, the new projects aim to accommodate the consistent rise of student enrollment within the district.

“Overcrowding just creates other issues,” Cain said. “It restricts what you ultimately want to do in terms of housing the students, and it makes traffic flow and even the student flow moving from classroom to classroom much more difficult.”

According to a demographics study conducted by the district and its business information services office, district enrollment has increased by more than 10,000 students since 2001. The district expects about 6,700 new students over the next decade, with Holt High and Timberland High at overcapacity by 2019 and Liberty High at overcapacity by 2021. According to the district’s website, it is the fastest growing school district in the state of Missouri in the 21st century.

“If we were looking at short-term growth, we’d look at some different solutions, but we’re talking about sustained growth,” Cain said. “The fact that we’re talking about, by the years 2026-27, that we could have over 5,500 new students in the Wentzville School District, it’s sustained growth. The short-term solutions don’t correct a long-term reality, and that’s going to be the reality in WSD.

“We’re going to be faced with a situation where two of our high schools, by the year 2019, are going to be overcapacity, followed very closely by Liberty High seeing a very similar existence.”

This isn’t the first time the district has proposed a ballot measure named Proposition E.

In April 2015, voters passed a tax-increasing measure of the same name that resulted in $50 million in funds to update classrooms and other facilities across the district to help cope with the growing rate of student enrollment at the time. The measure also helped provide additions to about five schools in the district.

Following voter passage of the original Proposition E, the district’s ‘K-6 Plan for Growth’ was born, That plan utilized existing funds to build two new elementary schools.

“What that allowed us to do was shift our sixth grade from the middle schools back to our elementary schools,” Cain said. “We built two elementary schools and then adjusted the boundaries to accommodate those elementary buildings. All of this is to preserve the best interest of our students, first and foremost, but also to allow us to be as fiscally responsible as possible.”

The current tax rate for the Wentzville School District is $4.9801 per $100 of assessed valuation. Unlike its predecessor, the current Proposition E will not raise taxes within the district.

“We’re calling it Prop E again because of the familiarity with our stakeholders,” Mary LaPak, chief communications officer with the district, said. “Prop E stands for Excellence in Education for Everyone, but it doesn’t have anything else to do with the previous Prop E.”

According to Cain, one of the reasons the district is able to propose a no-tax-increase bond issue this year is due to the district’s fiscal practices following the 2015 tax increase. Wentzville is coming off a clean financial audit for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2017. The audit results were released on Dec. 28 and reported no questionable costs or other findings.

“We’re very excited about this clean and unmodified financial audit,” Cain said. “We believe it mirrors what we’re constantly trying to do on a daily basis, which is being as solid with our fiscal stewardship as we can be.”

According to district officials, the projected time line to build the new high school in the district is about three years. While the new elementary school is a definite build, the exact time line for the project after the April vote remains tentative.

A supermajority [57.14 percent] is needed to approve or shut down the proposition at the April election.

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