Parkway Central locker room

HVAC systems on the roof of Parkway Central High. (Source: Parkway School District)

On Nov. 8, voters in the Parkway School District will be asked to decide on the district’s largest ever bond issue, Proposition S. If approved, the $265 million will not raise the district’s current debt service tax levy of $0.49 per $100 of assessed valuation; however, it will extend the district’s debt service through 2045. Bond sales will occurs in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Bond issues are a traditional way for schools to borrow money to pay for major school capital replacement projects. By law, bond funds cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries, benefits, transportation costs, utilities, textbooks or other supplies. As bonds are paid off, the district's debt service levy is reduced unless new bonds issues are passed. 

Project Parkway was used to provide the framework for the district’s strategic planning that has occurred over the last year and included hundreds of residents in meetings, thought exchanges, surveys and workshops. From those recommendations, the Board of Education voted unanimously to place Prop S on the Nov. 8 ballot.

According to district officials, Parkway has more than 3.5 million square feet of facilities with a replacement value topping $875 million. The district's 29 schools have an average age of 54 years. If approved, about half of the Prop S funds would go to capital replacement projects. Per district materials, the anticipated cost of those is $133,772,000. They would include HVAC, security camera upgrades, increasing fire sprinkler systems, updating doors and windows, pavement and asphalt, roofing, electrical power and light, plumbing, asbestos abatement, exterior wall repairs, flooring, retaining walls, and increased energy efficiency and generation. The projects would be completed over the next six years rather than the four-to-five-year period associated with previous bonds.

Chief Communications Officer Paul Tandy said the district talked to stakeholders throughout the Parkway community, including area residents, school families, building principals, technology people, food services and more in identifying the most urgent needs. 

“And our facilities department has identified what is going bad,” Tandy said.

He noted that the community has historically been supportive of the district and understands the importance of keeping the schools well-maintained. 

“Every four to five years we have asked (for consideration of a bond issue), and the community always responds,” Tandy said.

Megan Heuther moved to the district in 2010. 

“When we bought our house, we wanted our kids to have a Parkway education,” the mother of two said. “Parkway has a deserved strong reputation in the community. The bond supports our property values. It protects what we have invested.”

Tandy said Heuther is not alone in her assessment of the district. 

“People move here for the schools, and they stay,” Tandy said. “That’s why bonds pass. It’s a good place for success.”

One of the biggest takeaways from Project Parkway was the need for safe and accessible playgrounds. With the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, more kids with disabilities are attending public schools and need playgrounds that work for them. 

“We see playgrounds differently now,” Heuther said, noting that school playgrounds are also used by community members. 

Per district documentation, the cost to ensure accessibility for all students is set at $6,278,000 for projects that would include the installation or improvement of ramps, sidewalks, curbs and elevators, and the replacement of stairs to remove access barriers. Replacing elementary and preschool playgrounds would have an anticipated price tag of $9,585,000.

Tandy said one of the projects that the district is most excited about is the possibility of constructing a second early childhood center. Parkway currently has 400 families on a waitlist for early childhood. A new facility, proposed to be built near Southwest Middle, would accommodate many of those families. That cost would be covered in the $76,845,000 earmarked for classrooms, restrooms, cafeterias, early childhood and athletics. Specifically planned would be a classroom and storm shelter addition at River Bend Elementary, the addition of four student therapy rooms at the current Early Childhood Center, the renovation of restrooms districtwide; the reconditioning of pools and renovating of locker rooms at the four high schools; and Phase 2 renovations to North High per the district's master plan. Kitchen and cook areas at North and Central highs are also on this list. 

The state of the aging competition pools was a major talking point during Project Parkway. Originally the district had suggested building one new pool that would be shared between the high schools for competition. While it was determined that a shared pool would not meet the schools' needs, it became apparent that the pools' current condition could no longer be ignored. 

“We have been talking about the pools for years,” Tandy said. “The pools just never made the cut.” 

If passed, the bond issue would address needs like new decks, lighting, bleachers and updated locker rooms. 

The first wave of improvements would begin at the conclusion of the 2023 school year, addressing failing systems, including ceilings and HVAC. Playground improvements are also at the top of the list, as well as improving technology systems, such as replacing smart boards with new interactive white boards and burying wires to improve online connectivity. 

Included in the proposition's $38,520,000 technology budget are adding a secondary internet connection for emergency disaster recovery; redesigning the district's fiber networks across its 68 square-mile service area to avoid outages and internet connecton disruption; and upgrading the districtwide technology network (equipment refresh, wireless, backup power, cooling for data closets).

While the state allows school districts to borrow up to 15% of their assessed value, Parkway has only 4% of its assessed value in debt. Its last bond issue was passed by voters in 2018. The last of the projects funded by that issue were completed this summer. 

Parkway is one of four districts in Missouri with a AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s.