Dr. Lori Simon

Dr. Lori Simon speaks Friday about the proposed school bond issue at the Black Hills Press Club at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City.

The Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education may push back the date of the referendum election on a $250 million bond issue sought to finance an array of school construction projects, Superintendent Lori Simon said Friday.

With the authorizing of a bond election earlier this month, the school board simultaneously scheduled one to be held on Sept. 17. But in an address she gave Friday to the Black Hills Forum and Press Club, Simon said residents have told her that they need more time and more information before they can confidently cast their votes.

"We've gone into this process all along saying we want to listen, because we have to have the community's support. And so this gives us an opportunity to slow down, really engage deeply and educate our community," she said following her speech.

Simon said that the school board will further discuss rescheduling the bond election at its meeting on July 11. While she said that board members have held preliminary talks about a potential new date, one has not yet been determined.

Simon announced the possible change of date during a speech she delivered Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn that touched on recent school developments such as the upcoming launch of the  Pathways program, which will reshape the high school curriculum with a more targeted focus on career education, and efforts to improve early-grade reading proficiency. Her remarks come several weeks after the school board initially held off on approving the wide-ranging facilities plan that the bond issue would finance.

The school-civilian task force, which had worked on those plans for a year and a half, subsequently altered their proposal, which the board then accepted and will put on the ballot.

If the bond issue passes, the district plans to close Robbinsdale, Horace Mann and Canyon Lake elementary schools over the next three to six years and replace them with newer facilities, one of which would be built in the Parkview area and another of which would go up near Vicki Powers Park. A third new elementary school had originally been proposed to open southwest of Highway 16 and Catron Boulevard, but the task force recommended building it in the west or southwest side of town instead ahead of the school board's final vote.

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Based on community feedback, the task force briefly added Wilson Elementary School, the oldest in the district, to the list of schools slated to close but ultimately reneged on that recommendation. After the initial vote was delayed, they proposed the redevelopment of Rapid City High School as a fourth new elementary facility as another potential project.

Each of the three new elementary schools would cost an estimated $30 million to construct. South and West middle schools are also planned to be rebuilt where they stand for $45 million apiece. Remaining bond funds would go toward district-wide renovations and the upgrade of school security infrastructure.

Future outreach efforts may consist of additional public forums like the ones the schools held following the announcement of the bond initiative. Speaking with the Rapid City Journal on Friday, Simon suggested that such events could possibly be held at the schools proposed to be closed or renovated so that residents could tour them.

She acknowledged that there is some risk in delaying the election when school financial advisers have spoken favorably about current bond interest rates.

"They might not be as favorable in the spring, or whenever we decide to hold that election. On the other hand, they could be as favorable or more,” she said.

The bond issue, which will require 60% approval at the polls to pass, would levy a property tax of $1 for every $1,000 of a home's assessed value. School officials have argued that while a tax increase may be unpopular, one is necessary to address a school infrastructure that is aging and increasingly overcrowded.

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— Contact Matt Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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