Voters will be asked to approve two proposals – a $28.28 million bond and a 5-year, 0.75-mill sinking fund – on the November ballot, both of which would be used to fund a variety of capital improvement projects throughout the Oxford school district.
Should the proposals be approved, officials are looking to invest a total of $30.4 million into transportation, building systems, site improvements, roofing, technology infrastructure, security cameras/access and playgrounds throughout the district.
The Oxford Leader will take an in-depth look at the projects which have been proposed within each of these categories by district officials. In this issue, the Leader will explore Oxford Schools’ proposed updates to its playgrounds.
Officials are hoping to spend $500,000 over time on the improvement of playgrounds at elementary schools across the district.
According to Superintendent Tim Throne, should the proposals pass, the district would allocate $100,000 to each of the district’s five elementary schools to spend towards playground updates.
The playground updates would be tailored to each individual school’s needs.
The district is proposing the bond to be used in combination with a sinking fund in order to fill the gap between the proposed bond proceeds of $28.28 million and the district’s overall facility needs.
While Throne said the playground updates would primarily be funded through bond proceeds, he added that the district would need to re-evaluate the list of proposed projects which could be completed if both the bond and sinking funds proposals are not approved in unison.
In the 2015-16 school year, district officials offered to match any funds raised by local parent-teacher organizations (PTOs).
Since that offer was made, the district has spent more than $40,000 overall on new playground structures, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Sam Barna– matching the funds raised by PTOs of Lakeville, Oxford, and Daniel Axford elementary schools.
However, according to Throne, officials are looking to update all of the playgrounds, rather than just a few of them.
From replacing outdated pea gravel with the latest safety standard of engineered mulch to replacing play structures altogether, officials are looking to update sections of playgrounds throughout the district which have outlived their expected lifespan.
According to Barna, some of the schools’ current play structures are over 20 years old and each of the schools, with the exception of Oxford Elementary, still have pea gravel as its current play surface rather than the widely-suggested engineered mulch.
“Nothing is out of compliance. If there have been any immediate safety issues with our existing structures, we’ve either fixed them or removed them,” said Throne. “I don’t want to give the impression that we’re out of compliance with our existing playgrounds but, at the same time, we think there is opportunity to enhance those playgrounds, bring them up-to-date, and make them safer and more enjoyable for our students.”
If the bond and sinking fund proposals should fail, the district’s approximate 15 percent fund balance would not be enough to fund the cost of playground updates without hurting its financial standing, according to Throne.
“(The district) probably could not pay for these updates out of the general fund if the bond does not pass. These are considered major renovations and to try and find, in this case, a half million dollars to upgrade our playgrounds… it’s really not economically feasible for us to do that with our operational budget,” Throne explained. “Let’s say the district were to free up some money… then you get in the point of (weighing needs) and having to say ‘What’s more important? A safer playground or a safer bus? They’re both used every day, but the bus is transporting kids every day. It’s extremely difficult to free up operational dollars to purchase new buses. The same would hold true for the playgrounds.”
If voters approve the bond proposal, homeowners will keep paying 7.9 mills until the year 2040, rather than the year 2037 when the district’s current debt would be paid off.
If voters approve the sinking fund millage proposal, it would increase taxes on school properties due to the proposed 0.75 mills each year over five years. For a homeowner with a taxable value of $100,000, this would increase annual taxes by $75.