District to re-apply for additional mills
The DeSoto school district will apply once again for a mill levy authority only granted to districts experiencing rapid growth and adding new attendance centers.
At Monday's DeSoto school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the district would apply to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals for the authority to increase its local property tax levy for the next four years.
The district first applied for the additional levy last spring and was granted the authority in May. The district's 2000-2001 published budget shows the district used the authority to collect $781,585 for an extraordinary growth facilities fund. The fund was supported by a local property tax levy of 4.764 mills.
The Kansas State Board of Tax Appeals can grant the authority to a local district for up to four years. However, Zoellner said district administrators were unaware of that fact last spring and only asked the mill levy authority for the 2000-2001 school year.
The district's first application required a public hearing before the board of tax appeals. Zoellner said she didn't know if another public hearing would be required with the application for renewal.
If granted, the district would again receive $781,585 in additional taxing authority for the 2001-2002 school year, Zoellner said. The district would be able to raise 75 percent of that figure for the 2002-2003 school year, 50 percent in 2003-2004 and 25 percent in 2004-2005.
Also beginning in 2002-2003, the local property tax revenue supporting the extraordinary growth facilities fund would be further reduced because the fund's calculation would include the additional dollars the district receives from the state for students attending school in new classrooms, Zoellner said.
The DeSoto, Olathe and Blue Valley school districts are the only local districts to receive the mill levy authority. To be eligible for the levy, a district must levy the maximum local option budget of 25 percent of its general fund and have had at least a 7-percent growth rate for the previous three years or a total increase in enrollment of 1,500 students over that period.
When the district applied for the additional authority last year, it was hoped the levy would only be needed to cover first-year expenses associated with the opening of Mill Valley High School and Mize Elementary. However, Zoellner said the district again experienced an enrollment increase of 300 students and faces the need to staff a 10-room addition at Monticello Trails.
Board action Monday indicated the district would continue to face the challenge of staffing new schools. The school board approved bids for a new $8.3 million 41st Street elementary school that will open in the fall of 2002.
District Facilities Director Denis Johnson said bids for the school came in $10,213 under budget. Construction bids totaled $7.98 million. An additional $492,000 will be needed for permits, excise tax and other development fees.
Johnson told the board that $492,000 in savings from the construction of Mize Elementary and the expansion of Monticello Trails was rolled into the new elementary school's budget. That caused board member Sandra Thierer to express concern about the availability of funds to cover the coming improvements at Lexington Trails Middle School.
"Are you sure we're going to have enough?" she asked. "It's the oldest building we have. We're going to find things we're not expecting. I would hate to explain to Lexington Trails people we don't have enough."
Johnson assured Thierer that the district was using previously unspent bond money on the 51st Street elementary and that the bond authority for the Lexington Trails project remains intact. Superintendent Marilyn Layman said she recently met with architects for the Lexington Trails project and that Thierer "would be pleased" with their results.
Concerned about the need to increase the tax base to help with the cost of new schools, the DeSoto Economic Development Council asked the school board to consider endorsing Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment agreement for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. The Johnson County Commission will vote on the redevelopment plan March 15.
The district has taken a neutral position on the proposal. The strict neutrality is observed to the point that Layman and other district representatives talk only of the impacts rather than benefits the development would have on lowering the district's mill levy, increasing opportunities in technology education and providing land for future schools on the Sunflower plant.
Board President Jim Plummer of DeSoto was the only board member who found no problem with the board endorsing the Oz project, although Curtis Allenbrand and Rick Walker said they privately supported the proposal. But Plummer said he understood the objections of his fellow board members to a board endorsement.
Marsha Bennett of Shawnee said an endorsement would place the board in a controversial, political argument.
"I don't think it is something we want to get involved in," she said. "Our district is 100 square miles. There are people in Shawnee who are not in favor of that (project)."
There was discussion of the board changing its policy of not speaking of benefits from the Oz project. Although Bennett was the only board member who objected to the change in language and acknowledged she could be outvoted, the board took no action.
In other business, the board:
Scheduled Monday, April 16, as a school day to make up for academic time lost to winter snow days. The day, which follows Easter, was previously scheduled as a vacation day. Deyoe explained the district technically had enough hours to meet the state's minimum requirements without the extra day, but that the district demands more than minimum standards. The extra day will also give the district a cushion in the event of further inclement weather, he said.
Accepted the low bid from Schmidtlein Electric Co. to provide lighting at the DeSoto and Mill Valley high school tennis courts. The base bid was for $152,950, but the company provided an alternate bid should the board decide to build four additional courts at Mill Valley. The company will hold the bid for 60 days.
Johnson explained the Mill Valley courts aren't completed, but the bids were combined as a way to reduce costs.