Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2000

Does Oz give DeSoto new educational opportunities

March 2, 2000

The question of what affect the Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort would have on the city of DeSoto is one that has been debated on many fronts. What it would mean to the city and what it would mean for the school district are all things that DeSoto residents will be faced with for months and even years to come.

While the city deals with issues of annexation and fights for local control of the project, DeSoto School District Superintendent Marilyn Layman looks forward to the opportunities the theme park could bring to area students.

Regardless of who controls the development of the project, the fact remains that it would lie within the boundaries of the DeSoto school district.

That, Layman believes, would mean more good than bad for the district.

"If Oz does come, it will produce changes so quickly and so dramatically for this little community," she said. "I see it as a tremendous opportunity for our students. As long as school taxes are protected, I think it would provide a world of opportunities to the kids in the community."

State legislation passed last year prohibits businesses from obtaining school tax abatements. Layman said that is key for the district since the new development would result in thousands of new homes in the DeSoto school district.

Carol Farmer, DeSoto School District public relations coordinator, said county figures indicate that, once the cleanup at the Sunflower Ammunition Plant is complete, there will be room for 15,000 new homes if the theme park is built, and room for 26,000 new homes if it is not. Farmer said those figures are based on a 50-year buildout of the land.

With the new homes come more students and the need for more schools. That is something that Layman said she believes a project such as Oz could support.

"Oz would offer a whole lot of tax-base opportunities," she said. "In the past, we have been the victim of a lot of rooftops and not many businesses."

The support businesses such as hotels and restaurants that the project would spawn would also add to that tax base, Layman explained.

DeSoto School Board member Bill Waye agrees that the project could produce some significant tax relief for members of the school district. Although school taxes collected in Kansas are distributed evenly throughout the state based on student population, Waye said the theme park and resort would increase the tax revenue in the district.

"That would translate, hopefully, into lower mill levies and could make it easier for us to pass bonds," he said. "There is a lot of potential there. My only concern would be related to any attempts by them to reduce or waive taxes. We are protected by the legislation on that right now."

In addition to the tax relief, Layman said the theme park would bring a wealth of educational opportunities to area students.

The state-of-the-art technology organizers promise to bring to the theme park is something that Layman said students could be a part of as observers or even participants.

"The technology would be unlike anything else around. Just the exposure to that technology and the opportunity for kids to see that would be great," she said. "I think about EPCOT and the educational opportunities that were created there."

Layman also pointed out that the theme park could provide opportunities for University of Kansas graduates that they would otherwise have to leave the area to find.

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