LEWISBURG — The Lewisburg Area School District can finance a new high school and won’t run taxpayers into the ground in debt, Superintendent Mark DiRocco told a capacity school board crowd Thursday night in response to recent newspaper columns and reports asserting the district is moving too quickly with a project it cannot afford.
Saying he understands there is opposition to the new school, “You are entitled to your own opinions,” DiRocco said, “but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Borrowing capacity, school size and growth figures were among 17 points DiRocco answered during a half-hour presentation entitled “Misconceptions and Facts.”
DiRocco’s response followed issues presented by the Downtown Dragons, a grassroots group opposed to the new high school, in recent columns and reports in The Daily Item.
Among DiRocco’s points:
A capital reserve fund transfer of about $430,000 goes into a $2.7 million fund to spend on the school bond. “Floating bond scenarios doesn’t increase the budget,” DiRocco said. The budget contains the debt payment needed to finance the school.
n The district’s borrowing capacity is more than $62 million and will not “max out” on the new facility. In fact, the structure allows work on other district buildings to begin after the high school is built.
The district will pay close to $65 million on the $35 million project under financing, “but that is the way borrowing works,” he said. “It’s similar to home mortgages. You always pay more than what you actually borrow.”
DiRocco also cited a $20.5 million bond taken in 1996, which cost the district more than $35 million over 22 years.
The projected 180,000 square feet for the building is not excessive. It accounts for classrooms of about 800 square feet, the recommended size, as well as other needs, including a music suite large enough to accommodate the 140-member band and 150 member choral team. It also allows a PIAA-sanctioned size gym and wrestling room that will allow for competitions, and possible revenue for the school.
“We could take that out,” he said, “but we think it’s important.”
Instructional supply budgets haven’t been sacrificed in the name of funding the new school. While the budgets for the district’s four building were trimmed each more than $100,000 over three years, technology spending plans were boosted $100,000, and $50,000 was put into a new school security account following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Other points addressed growth figures, which DiRocco said came from the Department of Education, transportation, alleged auditors warnings and other ideas the Downtown Dragons asserted in five “My Turn” op-eds published in The Daily Item.
Many favor building
Thursday was the strongest showing of support for the new high school since the school board voted in November to move forward. Asking for a show of hands of those opposed to the proposed building, more than a dozen people responded. But more than twice as many raised their hands when asked who is in favor of the new school.
During public comment, eight people addressed the board, including Tara Humphrey, Jennifer Shabahang and Dave Gill, commending directors for what they called a fair, open and well-thought out process that involved the community.
“I was involved in the process of meetings and planning,” Humphrey said. “I want to applaud the board for doing things in such a way that invited the community to have an opinion and share it.”
Erin Jablonski, Sam Pearson and Christina Wallace of the Downtown Dragons, who wrote pieces in The Daily Item, also spoke and called for more study and a reconsideration of financing.
New school is needed
The most heart-felt message cam from Timothy Jarrett, a retiring driver’s ed teacher and 34-year employee.
“I hate to see all this controversy,” he said, adding his personal feeling is that a new school is needed.
“That building has had four renovations and it doesn’t get better,” Jarrett said. “It’s time we move on.”
Regular school business, including a vote on the next school budget, was sidelined by the continuing high school controversy.