It’s a sunny Wednesday morning in early June and school is out for the summer at Anderson Elementary School. Kindergarten teacher Denise Trisch uses the time she would normally be spending teaching her students to move out of a portable classroom.
Trisch was given a permanent room that’s within one of the school’s many wings – an upgrade from the portable room because the permanent room has a sink.
“This is a good room, this is probably the best (room available),” Trisch said. “It’s bigger, it’s more appropriate.”
The portable lacked a sink, Trisch said, and was too small for her 32 students. The new room however is not without its kinks. It’s one of the many rooms at Anderson Elementary School, and within the entire district, in dire need of repairs.
Asked how she would rate the room on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best, Trish said, “I would probably give it a four.”
At the same time, Trisch said, “I’m just happy that I have a bigger room and storage.”
Trisch’s classroom lacks a fresh coat of paint, curtains, and bulletin board where she can post her students’ projects. In addition, the floors need a buffing and the sink needs repairs. Just down the hall in the school’s west wing, teachers place buckets within the rooms to catch the rain that seeps through the roof.
There are many repairs that need to happen at Anderson Elementary School to optimize the learning environment, but because of budgetary issues, it’s not likely to happen. Trisch and the other teachers and staff know this, and do their best to maintain a safe environment at the schools by working with what they got.
Longtime Dixon Unified School District custodian, groundskeeper and maintenance worker Tony Davidson comprises half of the two-man team that is assigned to address the needs of facilities within the district. Davidson is currently working on a variety of repairs at the school.
“Right now, some of those are just on the surface,” he said. “We have some ongoing projects under surface. A lot of it is manpower.”
For example, at the team is attempting repair a water line that was put in over 50 years ago.
“It’s a concrete line, when they put it in 50 years plus years ago it was never wrapped properly,” Davidson said. “We get a leak out there and so we basically have to close the school to jack up the blacktop.”
Davidson and his partner prioritize the repairs at each of the schools by level of safety. If the item in need of repair jeopardizes the safety of the students, the repair gets priority, Davidson said.
“When you are dealing with the public and the public’s children you really need to be on top of that,” he said. “I have three children, everyone that I work with has children. We want a safe, clean environment. That’s our main goal. Children and safety come first.”
But it’s been a challenge for Davidson and his partner in tending to all the needs of the schools within the district.
“When I started in the district 18 years ago, we had three maintenance workers and now there are only two,” Davidson said. “We are basically putting out fires. We do the best we can, but it’s really difficult.”
Davidson said the roof issues plague the district, some of the parking lots are starting to develop potholes and need re-surfacing, and many of the schools need basic upkeep and maintenance, which has been difficult, if not near impossible to achieve without the appropriate funding.
“We have old flat roofs and they just need to be repaired,” Davidson said. “And it’s been a while since we had a maintenance fund. A lot of the things get pushed back behind. The longer we ignore it, the more despair our schools fall into.”
No one knows the monetary challenges facing the district better than Chief Business Official Cecile Nunley, who is also the director of facilities for DUSD.
The General Fund for the district covers the operational costs of the school and it how the district funds its two current maintenance workers. The state used to give the district money specifically for the maintenance of the schools.
“State budget cuts have eliminated funding for deferred maintenance,” Nunley said.
The money for deferred maintenance was shifted into Tier 3 Categorical Funds, which the district can use to fulfill any of its educational needs. The money that would have traditionally gone for maintenance and upkeep of the district is now going to other things such as keeping teachers employed within the district.
The facility needs of the district, in turn, have grown exponentially. Most of the schools need a fresh coat of paint, the district has wide-spread roofing issues, some of the parking lots and playground blacktops need re-surfacing and the general upkeep of the schools has fallen to the wayside because of the sheer amount of work that the maintenance crew has on its hands.
In a facilities master plan, Nunley outlines a series of projects – a perpetual wish list that would bring the district’s facilities up to par and maximize the learning environment.
One of those projects involves the moving of Anderson Elementary School across the street to Old Dixon High School.
“Anderson Elementary is in need of major repairs and is in a neighborhood that continues to grow,” Nunley wrote in the Facilities Master Plan Update. “The majority of future students will reside within the boundaries of Anderson. Major roof leaks occur on a regular basis as well as the heating, ventilation and air conditions units are old and unable to function appropriately with the current energy management systems, of which Anderson has two.”
In addition, Nunley says that Anderson is the only school in the district that lacks a quad area for student lunches or a central kitchen, the kindergarten classroom and multi purpose rooms are small compared to other elementary schools and the school suffers from low enrollment due to the lack of attractive elements.
“Some of the things we are talking about are above operational,” said Nunley during a recent tour of Anderson Elementary School.
In order to fix all of the wish list items on the Facilities Master Plan (see the full list of projects attached to this story), Nunley is recommending that the school board seek a general obligation bond in the amount of $47.5 million.
In order for the bond measure to go through, the Dixon Unified School District Board of Education would have to agree to put it on the ballot, and voters would need to approve it.
“School districts’ most significant revenue-raising opportunity relates to facilities only. Districts can issue general obligation bonds to build or renovate facilities with the approval of two-thirds of local voters or just 55 percent if they meet specific conditions related to the election and public oversight,” Nunley wrote. “They levee an ad-valorem tax to pay back those bonds. Districts could begin passing bond measures with 55 percent voter approval in 2001. Since then, 83 percent of these elections have passed, generating more than $51.4 billion in facility funds for the state’s schools.”
On Thursday night, Nunley will make a presentation to the school board for possible action centering on the general obligation bond. The school board meets at 7 p.m., within the chambers of the Dixon City Council, 600 East A Street, Dixon.