Public comment on bond issue crucial
Today's paper is likely to give readers sticker shock with news that a focus group of De Soto USD 232 residents, teachers and administrators had handed the Board of Education a $120 million wish list. That list included new facilities, technology upgrades, building improvements, land acquisition and one innovative -- and questionable -- fund.
Readers rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the price tag can be assured that it's very likely they'll not be asked to approve a bond issue of that number. In the next six months, the Board of Education, which will include three new members next month, will pick and choose from the menu presented Monday night. It should be remembered a focus group recommendation to build an expensive performing arts center never made it to the voters.
Recent district bond referendums haven't done well in De Soto, and there is little reason to believe this one will either, despite the growing need for new elementary school classrooms on the west side of the district. That need will become critical with the completion of the city's new sewer in early 2007. De Soto residents can be expected to oppose building a new central high school before De Soto High School reaches its 1,000-student enrollment capacity. That subject was a topic of much discussion among those in the focus group and was raised Monday by Board members.
Too, there seems little of value to De Soto residents in the proposed $10 million fund that would be used in conjunction with dollars from other jurisdictions for such projects as an indoor swimming pool. Johnson County and other municipalities may have the deep pockets to leverage that money, but De Soto -- which just went in debt for a new swimming pool and sewer plant and is on course to go even further in debt for water plant improvements -- doesn't. Furthermore, it appears an extravagance in a district that will be in constant need of new classrooms for the foreseeable future.
A blanket position of opposition may be satisfying, but it's not productive. The reality is new schools will be needed and the district will return with bond issues until one is passed. A more positive approach would be to inform Board members of what is and isn't acceptable.
The district can't and wouldn't write off De Soto voters. In a bond referendum, every vote counts no matter where it is cast. What makes the district's position more precarious is that it is rightly planning schools in areas yet to develop. That means much of the constituency for the next bond issue does not yet exist. The west Shawnee area that fueled new schools in the past is maturing, with a near complete build-out of needed schools. The focus is now shifting to Lenexa. The district may find those living in newly mortgaged homes in Shawnee less supportive, especially on the heels of a huge layoff on one of America's largest corporations.
This suggests the Board will be receptive to residents' views. De Soto and USD 232 residents have plenty of time to let Board members know their opinions. We suggest all should do so.