GENOA – After receiveing no bids for the shuttered Davenport Elementary School building, District 424 officials have some thinking to do about the building's future.
The building at 123 W. First St, Genoa just a couple of blocks from downtown, was closed after the 2016-17 school year and put up for sealed-bid auction. The minimum bid was set at $1.6 million, but that no offers were received by the Thursday morning deadline, Superintendent Brent O’Daniell said
O’Daniell said the future of the building, the closure of which was emblematic of District 424's sliding enrollment, will be discussed at the Tuesday school board meeting. He said before he took over as superintendent in January,
O’Daniell knows the school district is sitting near an all-time enrollment low and has tough days ahead, but he is confident the district’s struggles are nearing its end.
“The administrative structure is very strong,” O’Daniell said. “I have spent a lot of time working with my board and developing a plan moving forward.”
Genoa-Kingston schools have faced declining enrollment over the past few years. This school year, 1,672 students are enrolled in District 424, with only 143 freshman attending Genoa-Kingston high school.
O’Daniell knows the enrollment turnaround won't happen in a year, let alone overnight. He said the school board's plan consists of three-year, five-year and 10-year checkpoints. There are no consolidation discussions underway with nearby school districts, such as Hiawatha in Kirkland, O'Daniell said.
To determine what needs to be incorporated into the district’s plan, O’Daniell has put together extensive surveys to be given out to students, staff and community members.
“These surveys are centered around what our staff might feel they need, in terms of professional development and what they need to get better – the strengths and weaknesses all our students and staff see at the school and district level."
To counter shrinking enrollment, O’Daniell said the district has continued to work with the Genoa Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Mark Vicary to better market the city and surrounding areas.
“All this plays into the decrease in enrollment,” O'Daniell said. “We need to keep looking for ways to make Genoa-Kingston likable and marketable to the average consumer.”
Kristin Brynteson, a D-424 board member, says district officials can only control what’s in front of them.
“All we can do is provide the best education and make sure the students can make the most of their time within our schools,” Brynteson said. “The district all-around might be struggling, but our kids are deeply involved and care for this community.”
A looming concern for D-424 is a balloon bond payment due in 2022. In 2021, a bond payment of $2.6 million is due, and in 2022, the payment will be $3.8 million.
Genoa-Kingston also needs to spend at least $10 million over the next four years on health and life safety issues in its buildings, an issue that has grown over the past decade because of budget constraints.
“We have to decide if we’re going to suck it up and make the payment, or if we’re going to restructure the debt, or if we have to look at other options,” O’Daniell said. “Because of the financial discourse we’ve dealt with over the past few years, we’ve been putting our money into the programs. We’ve put off some work to the physical plans that need to be done.”
Considering all the district’s financial struggles, whether and how much it might increase its property taxes has been a hot topic. If there is an increase, it shouldn’t be substantial, according to O’Daniell.
“There’s a limit to the amount of increase, the burden we can put on taxpayers,” O’Daniell said. “If we don’t have the money to pay for something, we have to cut it. Luckily, that hasn’t happened here, but over time if we continue to lose funding and we can’t increase our property taxes, then we’re going to have to start cutting programs. Nobody wants to do that. We’re limited to the amount we can ask for from the community.”