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Checking the pulse of the community

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

New Castle Middle School could be getting a significant upgrade. Whether that happens sooner or later may be up to local taxpayers and voters.

The New Castle School Board has a plan to completely redo the inside of the middle school. According to school officials, these upgrades would improve security in the 40 year old building, while also changing the floor plans to make room for the city’s sixth-grade students.

The projected cost is just under $30 million.

Financial advisors told the school board the quickest and most efficient way to complete the project is to get all the funding at once.

Assistant superintendent Lisa Smith said New Castle Community School Corp. can save five-to-10 percent on the project if they can do everything at once.

This can happen if New Castle voters choose to pass a tax referendum and voluntarily raise their local property taxes to cover the costs.

Business manager Megan Bell told the school board Monday the district could also get $30 million within the current property tax cap restrictions, if the general obligation bonds were staggered correctly.

Bonds are essentially loans New Castle Community School Corporation uses to keep up with routine building maintenance.

“We’ve got to have that structured ... so that we’ve got a piece of money (if needed) so that we can do roofs or parking lots or whatever needs to be done,” New Castle Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker said.

General obligation bonds could also be used, for example, to build an additional parking lot on the west side of New Castle Middle School, Shoemaker said.

Public polling

Shoemaker advised the New Castle School Board Monday that they would need to make a final decision soon about funding the planned renovation.

If the school board wants to get its referendum question on the November ballot, the process will begin in May, Shoemaker said.

He asked board members to make that decision at their April 8 meeting.

Before that meeting, an outside company will poll local residents to see how the public feels about the proposed project and potential tax impact.

“I don’t think it would be prudent to even make a decision until the polling information’s out,” said school board president Travis Callaway. “You would never go into a $30-40 million project without totally exhausting your due diligence.”

Callaway said he wants to have as much data as possible before making his decision.

Board member Kim Williamson agreed.

“We need to feel the pulse of the community,” Williamson said.

The proposed NCMS renovation project is one of the recommendations from a public task force that developed a long-term plan for New Castle schools. The task force worked for a year to gather public input across demographic lines.

Callaway said using a third-party company to collect more information will help ensure objectivity in the results.

Callaway doesn’t want anyone in the community thinking NCCSC “pulled a quick one on them.”

“That makes me sick to my stomach to think (of),” Callaway said. “I just want to make sure that everybody knows we’re being as transparent as we can.”

Shoemaker pointed out the school board would have more time to educate the public if they put the tax question on the May 2020 ballot rather than the November ballot.

Other business

The school board also took a few minutes Monday to recognize student-athletes Luke Bumbalough and Cameron Tabor for their achievements on and off the basketball court.

The New Castle High School seniors both received a Trojan Award of Excellence.

Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker said this is the first time the Trojan Award of Excellence has been presented to students.

Bumbalough scored 1,714 points in his career as a Trojan, finishing second in NCHS history to 1983 Indiana Mr. Basketball Steve Alford. Bumbalough has a 4.1 GPA and is graduating 15 in his class.

Bumbalough has a full-ride basketball scholarship to Ball State University.

Tabor is the leading scorer in girls’ basketball history – and third overall among all Trojan basketball players – scoring 1,668 points during her high school career. Tabor earned a GPA over 4.2. and is graduating number 12 in her class.

Tabor earned a full-ride basketball to Davidson College.

Shoemaker thanked Tabor and Bumbalough for being good ambassadors to younger students.

“What I appreciate most is that both Cameron and Luke were gracious and kind with your time with the students that think so kindly of you, the little kids of New Castle,” Shoemaker said. “You were special to them, and you took time with them.”

In other business, the school board voted to join the Food2School cooperative Monday.

As part of Food2School, NCCSC will be a part of the buying power of more than 50 other school districts.

“I do think it will be substantial with the amount of buying power they have,” Food Service Director Dee Orick said. “Hopefully, it will be great money savings for us.”

Orick told the school board is free to join the co-op. She also said being a member of Food2School will not affect any contracts NCCSC currently has with distributors.

The New Castle School Board meets again at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8 at the Community Education Center, 322 Elliott Avenue.

Operation Stop Arm

New Castle Community School Corporation and the New Castle Police Department have partnered to conduct “Operation Stop Arm” over the next several weeks.

New Castle Police Officers will be following school buses to issue citations to any motorist that fails to stop for school buses when the stop arm is extended.

NCPD announced the initiative on their Facebook page Monday.

“This is being done in an effort to deter anyone from failing to stop for our school buses and to protect the children of this community,” NCPD said. “Please ensure that you pay attention while driving and stop for any school buses attempting to drop off or pick up children.”

NCCSC Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker tweeted out, “Collaboration at its finest!”

Shoemaker told his school board Monday the initiative if being funded with grant money.