Dover residents rebuke plan for new high school at public hearing
Residents of the Dover Area School District came out mostly against a proposal to build a new high school and renovate the current high school building for intermediate grade-level students at a hearing on Tuesday evening, Jan. 9.
More than 30 people spoke during public comment portion of the three-hour meeting for the proposed plan, and all but a few expressed skepticism or disapproval regarding the project.
Area resident Georgiana Abberton said she has seen her school property taxes double in the 17 years she has owned property in the district.
She added she does not want to see her taxes increase any more to build “palaces” similar to buildings created in other school districts, including Central York and West York Area.
“Not one thing in those plans showed how education improved,” she said. “It’s just a competition of who can build a bigger and better palace for the kids ... the education is not better.”
Building project: The project's total cost is capped at $65 million — $57 million of which would be for design, new construction and renovations, while $8 million would go toward finance, contingency and other construction-related costs.
The building project includes a new Dover Area High School building located on the property of the current Dover Intermediate School.
The existing high school on Canal Street would be renovated and used as the new intermediate or middle school building.
The existing intermediate school — which hasn’t had a major renovation or addition in nearly 37 years — would be demolished, according to the proposal.
Financing: Ted Ventre, a Dover business owner and resident, said he is concerned about continuing business in the district when property costs go up and academic performance does not.
“It’s hard for me to attract employees to live in the district,” he said.
Resident Shane Patterson said he is concerned about the cost of the project given the financial predicament of the district. He said including pension liabilities, existing debt and the proposed project, total district debt could sit at about $180 million.
Patterson, a banker, called the financing of the project a “scheme,” saying it was a “pretty complex effort to circumvent Act 1,” the property tax relief law that restricts how much a school district can raise taxes on its residents.
The district’s financial adviser on the proposal, Ken Phillips, took exception to the remark.
“This is a financing technique, not a scheme. I hate when people call it that,” he said. “This is the least costly way for funding to take place under Pennsylvania law.”
The district would fund the project with two general obligation bond issues in 2018 and 2019 at a combined $64.25 million, both using a wrap-around debt structure.
Millage, a standard by which to calculate property tax rates, would increase by 2.16 mills over eight years to finance the project, according to a millage impact chart included in the public hearing booklet.
Defenders: Several students and parents showed up at the hearing in defense of the proposal, saying improvements are needed to the district’s aging facilities.
One Dover Area Intermediate student said class sizes are approaching 30 students at the school and students sometimes walk shoulder-to-shoulder down the hallways because of overcrowding.
District resident and teacher Lauren Craig said she was concerned that economic concerns overlooked pressing concerns for building safety and viability.
“If you’re still living in this district 10 years down the road, we have a building that cannot be functional, what are the costs going to be then?” she asked rhetorically.
District, board response: Dover Area School District Superintendent Tracy Krum said administrators expected a rocky reception to the idea but added the proposal was well-researched and long mentioned at board meetings.
“The district has been talking about this for almost two years now,” Krum said.
She said she appreciated residents coming out and voicing their opinions and added the district will continue to accept letters through Feb. 8.
Dover Area school board president Nathan Eifert said he believes the district has been responsible by not raising taxes for three consecutive years and will continue to "manage the taxpayers' funds appropriately."
"In the end, the option that was presented during the hearing was one of the least expensive and addressed the pressing facility needs facing us," Eifert said.
"Our conversations will continue, and we will certainly listen to all sides of the discussions."
Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EducationYD.