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Middle school project will stay within tax caps

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Renovations to New Castle Middle School could start by the summer of 2020.

And, according to the New Castle School Board, local property owners shouldn’t feel much of a sting from it.

The middle school project is estimated at $33.5 million. This includes a complete remodel of all three levels.

Plans show the main office being moved to the front entrance of the building and permanent classrooms being built on the upper two levels.

By the end of the whole project, the building should be able to house grades six through eight for the first time in its 40-year history.

If the school board approves funding, the middle school project will be financed with a 20-year bond, similar to the expansion project at New Castle High School in the 1990s.

Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker said the 20-year bond could also pay for improvements at Bundy Auditorium, the Fieldhouse, Neal Field and the kitchen at Wilbur Wright Elementary School.

The debate Monday among school board members was whether the school district should work within the current property tax caps or ask the community to take on the 20-year debt outside of the tax caps.

“There’s pros and cons,” Shoemaker said.

Funding the bond within the property tax caps allows the district to start the project a year sooner, Shoemaker said. The tax rate would not go above the circuit-breaker caps in the Indiana Constitution.

If New Castle voters chose to pass referendum on the $33.5 million debt, the tax rate would increase above those caps.

Shoemaker said going outside the tax caps would also give New Castle schools an additional $600,000 a year in tax revenue they could use for projects like programs, school counselors or teacher salaries.

“There’s a benefit of going outside the tax caps, but it does raise taxes,” Shoemaker said.

School board president Travis Callaway’s biggest concern was if NCCSC could keep getting smaller bonds if they where carrying $33.5 million in debt already.

New Castle Community School Corporation already carries smaller bonds throughout the year to cover the costs of regular building maintenance, like roof repairs.

Financial consultants have told NCCSC they can structure future smaller bonds to work alongside the $33.5 million debt.

Callaway said the primary objective of the past year of community research was to make New Castle Middle School safer for students.

“We can accomplish all of this ... without raising taxes at all,” Callaway said. “For me, it’s a no-brainer.”

School board member Nan Polk had a different opinion. She said the additional revenue from going outside the tax caps would benefit New Castle students by allowing the corporation to pay teachers more and fund more counselors in the buildings.

Polk said New Castle is losing teachers to other communities because New Castle can’t match the wages.

“I’m more than willing to pay the taxes,” Polk said. “There’s a lot of good reasons to gives us a little more money which could make a tremendous for what opportunities we can give our students.”

Polk said New Castle voters should have a say in the matter.

The school board debated the issue for 30 minutes Monday, with every member weighing in.

Kim Williamson said it’s not always in the school’s best interest to raise taxes.

Jennifer Blackford asked if New Castle could really afford to wait an extra year for the referendum process if the middle school was in such dire need.

Cory Bennett doubted the validity of the referendum survey NCCSC commissioned and pointed out there are no roadblocks if the district stays within the tax caps.

Polk made the motion to seek the 20-year bond outside the tax caps. Bennett seconded. The motion failed 1-4.

New Castle Community School Corporation will stay within the property tax caps to pay off the $33.5 million, 20-year bond.

The New Castle School Board will have public hearings on the bonds at 6 p.m. June 3 and 7 p.m. June 10 at 322 Elliott Ave.