Bement applies for state loan

If the Bement school district gets access to no- or low-interest state borrowing, it could soon undertake maintenance projects with an eye toward increasing energy efficiency at its buildings.

More secure entryways could also be a result, said Superintendent Sheila Greenwood after the board on Feb. 8 approved an application for state Qualified Zone Academy Bonds.

“Some of the things we are looking at are replacement windows, and secure vestibules at the high school and the elementary school. We’re looking at a fire alarm system, some ceiling work, some restroom work, some roofing work. There’s just a lot of things in there,” said Greenwood.

There would be no major building additions included, with new entries being the only possible change to the district’s building footprint.

Bement is applying for just less than $3.5 million in bonds, but Greenwood felt that even if approved by QZAB, the dollars borrowed would likely be less than the requested amount.

“We won’t necessarily be spending near that amount of money, because what happens is they will prorate it if several districts apply for it, so we may get 20 percent of that,” she said.

Bement could qualify for a portion of Illinois’ share of the federal bonds because more than 35 percent of its students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. According to the district’s 2016 school report card, 39 percent fit the Illinois school definition of “low income students.” That number was 51 percent the year before.

Since interest payments on traditional bond issues can make up 50 percent of the cost of a loan, a no interest loan would have less of an impact on the district tax rate.

The district would have up to 25 years to pay back the bonds, according to criteria listed on the QZAB website. The impact on the local tax rate will not be known until the dollar amount borrowed is determined.

As a 10 percent local match, QZAB requires participating districts to form a QZAB academy to “better prepare students for college and workforce.” Bement has already found a partner in the National Endowment Foundation, which would donate approximately $350,000 in software to help the district form an online learning academy.

The school board approved the QZAB application at its Feb. 8 meeting, and Greenwood expected to formally submit it the next day.

The board also hired Opterra Energy as its qualified provider if it undertakes the energy efficiency and building modernization project. Opterra is also providing the district with its state-mandated health life safety survey, a requirement every 10 years.

Opterra would be hired to oversee the entire project, including architectural and engineering work. Using the design/build method, there would be a single not-to-exceed price known up front, with Opterra in charge of the contractors.

There is no up-front cost to the school district, as Opterra would earn its profit by bringing the project in under budget.

Old-fashioned testing favored
Elementary school students will take the PARCC assessment test April 3 through April 21, and will stick with paper and pencil instead of taking them on computers. Greenwood said tying up that many district computers for that amount of time would be disruptive.

She also said research shows “scores are higher on the paper and pencil tests and we believe it shows our students’ true abilities.”

In other action, the board:
–was told repairs of the gymnasium roof are underway after it started leaking in several places. She said the current roof had exceeded its lifespan and was due for some maintenance work;
–announced that fifth grade teacher Stephanie Eccles had received a $100 grant from the Meemic Foundation for classroom supplies;
–heard the district would once again host students from Cerro Gordo and DeLand-Weldon at its annual Welcome to the Real World event on Feb. 16; and
–was told the district’s entries in the countywide spelling bee would be Caroline Hill (fifth grade); Jariah Adamson (sixth grade); Addie Fritz (seventh grade) and Tori Vandivier (eighth grade).

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