Archive for Thursday, May 30, 2002

USD 232 board should listen to voters

May 30, 2002

The De Soto USD 232 Board of Education has a decision to make in the coming weeks after last week's rejection of the $91.2 million bond issue.

A number of board members are on record as favoring resubmitting the same bond issue voters rejected last week. In our view, that would be a mistake.

Given the district's expressed urgent needs, the board shouldn't advance any bond issue without complete confidence in its approval. The local board deserves some leniency in that regard because the extraordinary growth in western Shawnee presents the district with a large number of voters with no track record.

Unfortunately for the board, it gained little information from the failed referendum. Unlike a traditional election, the Johnson County Election office can't produce results on a precinct-by-precinct basis. The board will only learn who voted and who didn't. That will provide useful information as the district attempts to reach non-voting households in neighborhoods with an interest in new schools.

That is unlikely to be enough to change last week's decision, because the mail-in ballot was the best shot the board will get this year. To state it bluntly, empty-nest senior citizens go to the polls to vote at a much higher rate than young couples with school- or pre-school-age children.

It is disappointing that 50 percent of district voters treated the mail-in ballots like another piece of junk mail. But that is a far better participation rate than the district can hope to see should it advance another bond referendum this year. The 2000 primary election saw about a 20 percent turnout. The November general election that saw voters cast ballots for president only had a 37 percent turnout.

It is difficult to argue the new schools and much of the land acquisition proposed in the defeated bond issue aren't vitally needed. If the board is to offer voters a different proposal, it will have to look at expenditures for books, technology and non-classroom land purchases.

We would suggest the board start by eliminating a proposal questioned by one of the bond issue's biggest supporters, the development of central baseball and softball field, and the purchase of land for future central football and soccer facilities.

The concept was advanced as a way the district could save money at future high schools. It has been used successfully in the Olathe and Blue Valley school districts.

But with its distinct communities, USD 232 is different. There seems to be a desire on both sides of the district to keep up sporting activities and traditions in the local community.

Board members insist they wouldn't ask taxpayers to pay for non-essential items. They said the board proposed the bond issue because district residents on its Facilities Committee said the board represented district needs. We respect that, but a much larger group of district constituents said no.

With a tougher audience next time, the district would do well to change the script. It would also give the board the chance to say, "We heard you; we respect your wishes."

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