Board ponders next steps for SDHS

In late March, voters and property owners in the South Dearborn school district voted with their signatures 1,923 to 1,481 in a petition/remonstrance race to halt a proposed $9,760,000 in improvements to South Dearborn High School, Aurora.

A proposed artificial turf field and an activities center was the sticking pointing for many who otherwise agreed the high school desperately needs repairs and renovations.

But with about $300,000 at best each year left in the school’s capital projects fund after fixed expenses, the lack of additional revenue in the foreseeable future leaves school board members with some decisions to make.

They started discussing options during a work session before their regular school board meeting Monday night, April 17, at Moores Hill Elementary School.

School Board President Scott Willoughby started off by pointing out issues remain at SDHS that must be addressed. He encouraged other board members to share their thoughts on what should happen next.

Board member Karla Raab said she wants to focus on the primary safety concerns at the school.

Board member Josh Holland voiced the board might be able to move forward with requesting additional property taxes if the original plan is significantly changed. He said the turf and activities center should be nixed from proposed plans.

After losing a petition/remonstrance race, the school corporation must wait at least a year before presenting another proposal over $2 million for SDHS, unless there is a significant change.

Although Holland felt removing the turf and center would be a “significant change,” board attorney Larry Eaton advised against it.

“It is a gray area, and it probably is not best that the board be in a gray area,” said Eaton.

One option is adding an additional $2 million in property tax revenue each year, said Superintendent Dr. John Mehrle, who pointed out the option as a suggestion only.

Amounts up to $2 million are not open to petition/remonstrance based on state law. That is why planned improvements for Aurora Elementary, Dillsboro Elementary, Manchester Elementary, Moores Hill Elementary and South Dearborn Middle School can move forward.

Each project was handled individually. The price tags for improvements at elementary schools and middle school individually tallied under $2 million.

But the bond process has deadlines to keep on its current schedule. If another amount up to $2 million was added to the tally of the other schools for SDHS, a decision would have to be made soon.

Broken down by school the proposed amounts are Dillsboro Elementary, $1,010,000; Manchester Elementary, $1,290,000; Aurora Elementary, $750,000; Moores Hill Elementary, $470,000 and South Dearborn Middle School, $220,000.

Mehrle also pointed out a bill currently in the Indiana Legislature would raise the amount up to $5 million if passed into law.

But board members did not show support for raising the money piece by piece over the next few years.

Members agreed they would stay with the amounts previous discussed for the elementary schools and middle school. They also agreed a way must be found to cover the costs of the high school’s most urgent needs.

Willoughby asked corporation administrators to come up with a list.

Items mentioned during the meeting included pool repairs, adequate restrooms at the football stadium, and an access road from the school to the baseball/softball fields.

The board also must be careful not to move forward with a project that might be halted as other projects move forward, said Raab.

“The last thing we want to do is waste money,” she said.