Members of the St. Joseph School District shared information on the future of their facilities with business and community leaders during a St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce public affairs event Friday morning.
The breakfast, which was held at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, had Dr. Doug Van Zyl, the district’s superintendent, and School Board President Seth Wright presenting five concepts for the future of the city’s high schools while also accepting questions and providing additional information to those in attendance.
“That’s the biggest thing is just be able to say, ‘Here’s the process we went through. We’re not trying to leave any stone unturned,’” Van Zyl said. “We’re trying to give people an opportunity to voice their thoughts and ideas … there’s still time for you to be able to share that with us.”
He went on to lay out each concept before mentioning the total bonding capacity of the district, which currently sits at around $171 million. Around $34 million is currently tied up in existing bonds related to two elementary schools.
As most of the facility concepts’ estimated costs sit well above that mark, Van Zyl said there are other opportunities that can allow the district to raise money, such as a lease purchase or an operating levy with a sunset, the latter of which would be around 89 cents, or $169 a year for a $100,000 market-value home.
Following Van Zyl’s presentation, Wright asked for the support of those in the room.
“You cannot sit behind your desk or in your office and expect something to change. I hope today will be your call to action,” Wright said. “We need your help. If this room is not united in the vision of what they want this community to look like, what chance do we have to go out and convince the public? We have got to be united. We have got to have your support. … We can’t do it alone.”
It was a call that Patt Lilly, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, responded to later on in the event.
“What I saw and heard today was a discussion of an opportunity that we have in St. Joseph to really move our community forward and be the kind of community — certainly from an educational standpoint — that we deserve to be,” Lilly said. “I think oftentimes people don’t think about the schools that they drive by, or perhaps they don’t have kids in the school, but the public school system in the community is an important asset, maybe the most important asset.”
Van Zyl and Dr. Marlie Williams, the district’s assistant superintendent of academic and education services, answered questions presented by those in attendance. Some asked whether a two- or one-high-school model would affect sports and extracurriculars negatively, to which Van Zyl responded that there may be more opportunities to include extracurricular activities overall.
Another question involved how the district is engaging the community and making sure voters are educated on the situation. Van Zyl said that such a process can be difficult, and it’s a challenge that Lilly would go on to acknowledge.
“At the end of the day, most people, particularly in the way that they get information today, aren’t engaged, or they’re only engaged in that which they want to be,” Lilly said. “I think continuing the outreach that the school district’s doing, (utilizing) the media, providing information to people in various forms. You just have to continue to beat the drum, so to speak and try to get people engaged and thoughtful and considering.”