Archive for Thursday, November 16, 2006

Board members ponder: What now?

November 16, 2006

Although Monday's official canvass of the De Soto USD 232 bond issue vote narrowed the margin from 81 to 32 voters, the issue was still defeated.

Monday's official vote canvass showed that 9,744 ballots were cast in the bond referendum. Of those, 4,888 votes were against and 4,856 in favor-- a margin of about .32 percent.

Now, De Soto administrators and board members have to plan for the hundreds of new students enrolling in district schools each year. The defeated $105.7 million bond included expansions of both high schools and more elementary schools, as well as other amenities.

Board president Don Clark said options could include changing the high school boundaries, increasing the number of students per teacher or even the grade-level structure of the middle schools. Board members said they haven't made any decisions as to whether they should present another bond issue to voters, but know that more space is soon needed.

"It sounds like we'll have to determine what the voters did not like," Clark said. "What was the cause of it? Was there a part they didn't like? Was the De Soto community feeling slighted so they didn't vote? These are all questions we'll look at."

Clark said although he heard a lot of feedback about patrons wanting smaller schools, last week's vote showed otherwise.

"We might have to start increasing the size of the elementary (schools)," Clark said. "We'll look at all the options."

Clark said that while considering boundaries for the district's new elementary and middle school, the board might have to re-draw the high school boundaries as well and send more western Shawnee students to De Soto High School. That won't be a long-term solution, however, he said, because of growth on both sides of the district.

"I'm not one to believe in rushing to get another bond," he said. "Let's not hurry. If they didn't want that, we have to deal with what the voters wanted."

Board member Sandy Thierer said there were several reasons she believed voters didn't approve the bond issue. She said some parents in Shawnee were upset about a separate boundary issue and one group of families did want a third high school near Mize Elementary; there were voters who sided with Randy Johnson against the district's general spending practices; and there were patrons who always vote against any tax increase.

"It's been my experience that when a bond has failed by this low a margin, there are usually circumstances that existed at the time the bond failed," she said. "This was the perfect storm."

Thierer said voters had rejected bonds in the past, and the district was able to come up with solutions to the growth concern. She said the board could choose to take the most dire need and have a bond election for a portion of what the $105.7 million failed bond would have funded. Whether the need is greater at the high school or elementary school is one question the board and administrators will have to answer, she said.

"All of those decisions have consequences," she said. "If you decide to build an elementary, that doesn't alleviate the problem at the high school."

She said in the past, the district has also had to pay for some special elections to pass a bond issue during an off-cycle election year.

"That costs money when you do a special election," she said. "Then the district will have to incur all of the expense of putting this before voters."

The board will start dealing with the consequences of the failed bond issue at 6 p.m. Thursday, when they have a regularly scheduled meeting and a public hearing for the new boundaries.

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