Clinton — On December 7, Clintonians will vote on a $17.5-million school bond issue.
“It’s a no-brainer to invest in the future of your children,” said Realtor David Stevens. “It’s as obvious as the nose on your face.”
A 60% “yes” vote would allow construction to begin on a new elementary school and athletic facilities for the Clinton Public School District (CPSD). Proponents of the plan call it a “win-win” scenario, primarily because the bond issue can be completed without a tax increase.
“We must have it to recruit business because the first thing a company wants to know when they’re considering relocating to Clinton is ‘When did you have your last school bond election?’ and if it didn’t pass, they turn around and walk out the door,” said Stevens. “Their point of view is: you want us to relocate our entire facility to your community, yet you won’t invest in the future of your children?”
John Murphy, co-chair of Citizens for Excellence in Education in Clinton, and president of BankPlus in Clinton, said businesses also want to know by what percentage the most recent school bond issue passed.
“The last bond election for Clinton High School and other improvements passed with a record-setting 85%, and we’d like to see a repeat of that favorable vote,” he said. The district has slightly more than 16,000 registered voters.
Clinton real estate attorney Cris Crisler, co-chair of Citizens for Excellence in Education, said young families shopping homes in the community want to see where their children are going to school.
“The first school they look at is K-1, and here we have a 40-year-old building with structural problems,” he said. “We’re trying to present ourselves as a community whose primary focus is education, and we want to have first-class facilities at every level, including the athletic side.”
Outstanding schools a selling point
Dianne Newman, executive director of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, said Clinton’s outstanding school district, “from K-Ph.D.,” has been a major selling point when recruiting business and industry to the area.
“We want to be viewed as a community that embraces all ages of people,” said Newman, who pointed out that Clinton is a certified retirement community. “We also want to have a wonderful environment to attract young families, and to do that, you need to start out with an excellent K-1 facility.”
The current Clinton Park Elementary School is a neighborhood school that serves approximately 700 children. If the school bond issue passes, a new $10.4-million, 84,000-square foot elementary school with 57 classrooms would be constructed on wooded 16th Section land at the corner of Arrow Drive and Justin’s Way.
“Clinton Park was our first elementary school,” said Newman. “It’s been added on to, but that alone tells you it needs to be replaced. It’s critical to start children at that age on the right foot at a wonderful facility, as they’ll surely end up at a wonderful facility at Clinton High School.”
Formed in 1970, the CPSD encompasses approximately 134 square miles. It is governed by a five-member board of trustees, has an annual budget of $27.2 million, and serves more than 5,000 children.
CPSD superintendent Tommye Henderson said she isn’t sure what would happen to the current Clinton Park facility. “Proposed ideas include demolishing the structures and offering the property for sale,” she said.
If the bond issue passes, $8.4 million would be used to build a new athletic complex with a 6,087-seat stadium on 16th Section land behind the student parking lot at Clinton High School. Roy Burkett Field would continue to be used, for junior high school football games and as a practice field for all sports, said Henderson.
“We don’t have school facilities to handle tennis, soccer and girls’ softball — we’ve been using public parks for that — and our football stadium is aging and is no longer a part of the high school campus,” said Murphy. “The football field isn’t large enough for a soccer field, so we’re planning to have a synthetic turf field that can be used year-round — on Thursday nights for soccer and Fridays for football and state band competition on Saturday — and whether or not it’s raining, the field will still be in great shape.
“If you listen to educators, they’ll tell you that a better indicator of success later in life for kids is their participation in extracurricular activities, even more so than grades and academics. Athletes being a big part of that, we want to provide the best that we can and the best the state has to offer in terms of athletic facilities. We think we have one of the best school districts in the state from academic standards. We’ve been rated Level 5 for all years of ratings. We think we have the best teachers and administrators and this is going to carry athletics to that level also.”
Passage ‘imperative’ for future
Clinton Realtor Tony Greer, also a city alderman, said the school bond passage “is imperative for the growth of the city.”
“We compete with other metro-area cities, and we need this to attract young families,” he said. “As a real estate person, I know it will also bring growth with developers.”
Murphy said he’s confident that taxes will not need to be raised.
“The folks that handle the finances for the school district have looked at all the numbers, and so have we, and the estimates in terms of past history are pretty conservative,” he said. “For example, we’ve had 6% or better growth rate in tax revenue and we’re only putting in estimates of a 2% increase. The part about the bond issue rolling off in 2007 and 2015 are not debatable things. They will roll off in those years. There’s always some off chance that the state won’t fully fund education and we will have to have a tax increase, as will other school districts across the state, but we don’t think we’ll need one relative to this bond issue even in the worst case scenario.”
Greer added: “For these improvements to be done out of the current budget is unusual. That shows good fiscal responsibility on the school board’s part. Couple that with the annexation we’ve just accomplished, and we’ve got lots of room to grow. We’re putting the word out: come to Clinton.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.