The Decatur Daily Democrat

NA board questioned about multi-purpose building


A public hearing on two proposed projects worth a total of $7 million drew only one very congenial questioner at the March session of the school board.

The board later voted 6-0 to approve a series of five state-required resolution­s to prepare for the projects, which would be financed by a bond issue. The only absent board member was Michelle Stimpson. One resolution approved the preliminar­y plans for both projects.

The solo questioner was a man wellknown to the board: Fred Kunkel, a farmer, businessma­n, and a NA school bus driver for the past 30 years.

Kunkel first asked why the board is considerin­g these new plans after having so recently completed larger improvemen­ts and he said he’s heard that the board operates under the view that as old debt is paid off, that makes room to add new debt in the form of additional projects.

He also said the $6 million estimated cost for a multi-purpose building that would be located between the elementary school and the middle school seems quite high for such a structure and he asked that the board members spend money in a better way by paying teachers more.

Low teacher pay, Kunkel sad, “is our biggest problem” in the education system. Starting pay for teachers in Indiana is around $40,000 per year.

Board member Tim Ehlerding, who is the board’s liaison with the Indiana General Assembly through the Indiana School Boards Associatio­n, said local school boards’ hands are tied by the legislatur­e on the teacher pay issue. He added that some smaller school districts – smaller than North Adams – struggle to attain that $40,000 teacher pay level because of lower or falling enrollment­s.

However, board member Stacey Bussel told Kunkel that his questions are timely because “you say what other people say and think.”

Board member Carla Bultemeier said all Indiana schools are still feeling the negative effects of the state property tax cap that was created in the early 21st century.

About the multi-purpose building, NA superinten­dent Kim Hiatt told Kunkel that most of the cost would be in site-preparatio­n and that it would have such uses as a lunchroom for students, an area to allow for more orderly arrivals and dismissals of students on weekdays, a space to operate a latchkey program in the afternoons for families, and room to hold meetings of various kinds.

The other project is pegged at $1 million, with more than half of that to raise and replace the running track around the football/ field in Bob Worthman Stadium. Other parts of that project involve new ramps to better comply with the Americans with Disabiliti­es Act, new concrete, and new fences.

Hiatt pointed out that a new press box that will be added at the stadium is not part of this project, but has long been planned.

Speaking about the need for the multi-purpose building, Bellmont Elementary School principal Aaron Baker said serving lunch will be easier for the kids because the current meal setup “is definitely a long way to go for those little legs.”

Ehlerding noted that the board recently drew up a complete “wish list” of what the school system should have and it amounted to $62 million, but that’s simply impossible with the present state of finances.

He also made the point that there is a race against inflation, since steel prices have doubled in recent years and electrical and heating, ventilatin­g, and air conditioni­ng costs are hard to start, with lead times often up to two years. Ehlerding said some square footage costs for constructi­on have doubled from $200 to $400.

When all was said, Kunkel pronounced himself satisfied that the board was acting properly. He also learned about the bond process via a repeat presentati­on by Luke Bruggeman, vice-president of the Stifel public finance firm in Indianapol­is.

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