Voters will decide on new high school in Monticello
MONTICELLO — The fate of a new high school for Monticello is now up to the school district's voters.
Thursday night, the Monticello School Board voted to place two questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. The first asks for voters' approval to issue building bonds to fund construction of a new high school, estimated to cost $35 million. An additional $5 million would be used to convert the current high school into a districtwide elementary school.
Voters will also be asked to weigh in on the possibility of a 1 percent sales tax to help fund building needs for Piatt County schools. That ballot question will be considered by all county voters.
"I think it's the right plan, and it's the right time for the school district, for the community of Monticello and most importantly the children who will benefit from improved and modern facilities," said school board member Sarah Ross.
Zach Hillard, a 1995 Monticello High graduate who is now a school board member, said his family moved back to the city in 2007, partly to take advantage of the local school system.
"When you have an asset like that, you need to invest in it to make sure it continues to provide everything it does for our community, and the kids of our community," Hillard said.
On the second ballot issue, Superintendent Vic Zimmerman had been cool to the idea of a sales tax until a resident asked him to consider it to mitigate some of the cost of the new school. If approved, it would generate an estimated $400,000 per year for Monticello school facilities, most of which would go toward paying off bonds if they are approved
"That's why it makes sense to place both referendums on the ballot," Zimmerman said. He said without the sales tax, the bonds would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an extra $190 per year in real estate taxes. With the sales tax, that would be knocked down to about a $150 increase annually.
Zimmerman also outlined four priorities the board would keep in mind regarding a new high school: making sure it maintains and advances existing programs; choosing a site close to the current high school if possible; retaining elements of traditional school construction; and enhancing efficiency and sustainability.
There were about 20 people at the special meeting, with none addressing the board. Both motions to place the questions on the ballot were approved unanimously.
Zimmerman also suggested the formation of a committee that could begin making contacts regarding possible site acquisition.
The school district has spent about three years studying its facilities, four of which have original build dates between 1894 and 1923. It included the Sage Voices community engagement effort earlier this year, which led to the recommendation to build a new high school.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.