Superintendent's Corner
9/25/2018The year is off to an excellent start and the Highland campuses are getting some of the much needed improvements that have been discussed over the past couple of years. The school district organized a committee of faculty, staff, board members, and community members to evaluate and update the school’s Continuous School Improvement Plan (CSIP). Through those discussions, there were many capital improvements or construction projects that were identified as needing addressed. Of course, some of the projects and needs of the district are quite expensive and so priority and focus has been placed on the items the district could afford within the confines of the budget and long range budgeting. The district began with implementing a parking lot replacement plan that was a multi-year phase-in to replace the existing parking lot surfaces with concrete at both campuses. The elementary campus was targeted first and the district has now, over the course of two years, completely replaced the entire circle drive and the bus lanes. This past summer the first couple phases of the High School parking lot were replaced.

Honestly, the entrance and circle drive area was much larger, nearly double the size, of an area than what the annual budget would cover. This is where the refinancing of the district’s outstanding lease certificates allowed us to complete the entire entrance and bus loop at the High School. Had it not been for the refinancing, the district would have either had to choose different parking lot areas to replace or only replace a portion of the entrance, which was not a very functional option.

One of the biggest ticket items identified by the CSIP committee for the district to improve was the track and field facilities. As this item is unlike the parking lots and cannot really be done in stages, we knew this would take a bigger plan. During my time as superintendent at Highland, we have had more requests from parents and patrons of the community to replace the track than any other item. In fact, it is also the request that has come to the board of education from parents more than any other item. This is partially because the track was in such bad shape.

Therefore, the board of education approved the refinancing of the district’s outstanding lease certificates. Essentially, this is like the typical homeowner refinancing their home to do some home improvements or add a room. The board of education saw this opportunity to greatly improve the district facilities without asking the taxpayers to increase the tax rate and to be able to keep the existing budget in place. While there is a growing need for additional revenue to cover operating expenses, the money generated from this refinancing is only allowed to be used on capital improvements! In other words, the district was able to improve our facilities without changing the current outlook on the district’s budget. This is not to say that there isn’t still a need for increased funding to support lower class sizes, increasing operating costs, and to cover reduced funding from the state and federal government.

If you have kept informed on the status of the project, the district’s track and field is nearing completion. The district will have an all-weather track and field facility that will allow the district the opportunity to bring home track meets back to Highland. This has been a topic of discussion on Facebook and some patrons have been wondering why the district’s plans are to wait until next school year (2019-2020) to host track meets at Highland. There is a perfectly reasonable reason for this decision: the district is looking to save the taxpayers money! Essentially, the district will be able to purchase the state competition equipment after the state track meet this Spring at a largely discounted price. This will save the district thousands of dollars, which means we can use that money more wisely on items that will positively impact the students of the district. Culver-Stockton College has graciously allowed Highland to host our meets on their campus, free of charge, for several years now. It made the most practical sense to take advantage of the discounted equipment and wait one more year to begin hosting the meets at Highland.

I also wanted to provide some insight into the decision to replace the football field with turf. With the board approving the renovations to the track and field facilities, it again made good practical sense to go ahead and upgrade the football field at the same time. The new drainage required for the all-weather track would have required extensive digging into the field areas, plus the expense to do the upgrades are greatly reduced when doing the project all at once. Though this was not the only reason for the decision to proceed with the field upgrades. Essentially, when the board examined the benefits provided to all of the district programs, the students, and the community by having an all-weather turf field, the decision was fairly easy. The football field, in conjunction with the all-weather track, is now an outdoor classroom that benefits all of our students, programs, and community members as well!

I recently received an anonymous letter that was basically saying “the $1.5 million football field didn’t seem to be paying off for Highland” and they had attached a newspaper clipping of the score from the Highland vs Centralia football game. This brings about a couple of things that must be stated and understood. First, the improvements to the football field were less than 1/3 of the $1.5 million, because that $1.5 million is the approximate, overall cost for the entire athletic facilities improvements. Secondly, the district never decided to upgrade the football field for the purpose of improving the football team. In fact, the truth is, the upgrade to the football field had a whole less to do with the football team than it did with the rest of the district’s programs and the community. The football team would have still been playing on our grass field regardless of whether the improvements were made. It is the track that was not useable in its previous state. The all-weather field is now an improvement that benefits our marching band, allows our athletic teams to practice and our PE classes to conduct class outside when the fields are too wet, allows our community youth teams to use the facility without concern over field conditions, etc. Furthermore, the upgrade eliminates the thousands of dollars spent annually on seeding, fertilizing, and watering a grass field, all while providing a safer surface for students and athletes to play and compete on.

Basically, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain some of the thoughts and considerations that went into the decisions to make the current improvements the district is making. I also want everyone to know that there are several other improvements being made that aren’t so visible, but are only able to be afforded because of the refinancing. For example, we also replaced the entire smoke detector/fire alarm system at the elementary building because it was antiquated and not functioning properly. Additionally, we have replaced some electrical panels that are outdated and in need of replacement. The HS gymnasium lighting was replaced with more efficient and brighter LED lighting, plus there are several more improvements in the works!

When I first got here, that was the complaint I received the most; that we, as a district, needed to make some improvements to facilities. I would like to thank our board of education for having the foresight and planning to provide for the types of improvements that Lewis County C-1 is making to our district facilities. These improvements truly do benefit the entire community!