Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Curtain may drop on district arts center

Board learns total bond costs underestimated, returns recommendations to facilities focus group

August 23, 2001

De Soto school board members hoped to use Monday's meeting to start building support for the district's proposed $91.2 million bond issue. However, internal concerns over the figures involved raised questions about the necessity of certain planned amenities.

The bond issue includes plans for three new elementary schools, a new middle school, a district performing arts center and sports complex and other improvements. However, some board members expressed concern that the hefty price tag for the bond issue would leave residents questioning, and rejecting, the need for whole package.

"People I've talked to say there's a lot of nice things in there, but they aren't going to educate kids," said De Soto board member Sandy Thierer.

Apparently, some features will have to be excluded. Superintendent Dr. Marilyn Layman announced the bond issue's original cost estimates were low, leading to a debate over what items on the list of wants and needs should be excluded. The favorite candidate for elimination was the proposed district performing arts center.

"If we can't have everything, we will build schools every time they are needed," said board member Bill Waye, Shawnee. "If that means something else has to be held off, I'm sorry, there will be bond issues in the future."

It was agreed the three proposed elementary schools would have to remain with the district, experiencing a student population growth of about 300 students per school year. And Thierer commented, "A third high school is not far behind."

Although extras such as a new performing arts center are still being debated, the group agreed additional facilities were a must and would need to be constructed soon.

The wording of the bond issue resolution would give the board discretion over how the $91.2 million authorized would be phased in. Some board members expressed concern that the bond issue would be too ambiguous for residents to accept.

Board members concluded that they could more easily persuade the community to agree with the estimated costs if they stuck to what would be absolutely needed in the immediate future. But because future needs are based on future growth, they couldn't predict with any certainty when future needs would occur.

Thierer explained her position that she wasn't willing to present an ambiguous proposal to the community.

"It's our credibility that's the bottom line," she said. "Previous board members had a problem with credibility, there has to be a clear understanding."

Board member Jim Thomas, Shawnee, added, "It has to be clear that we are only asking for the authority to spend the money on what's needed, only if necessary."

Shawnee board member Marsha Bennett said the original list of district additions and improvements should be presented to voters intact. When other board members suggested the performing arts center be axed, Bennett raised the possibility that the center could produce revenue for the district.

The group expects to have a bond issue proposal ready for a May 21 mail ballot, which would then require state board approval by June 1. But for now, the proposal will be sent back to the 30-member focus group for further discussion.

Layman concluded the debate on the bond issue by backing the initial proposal, "We need everything on here, the question is the performing arts center.

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