Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Board starts work on pared down bond

April 12, 2007

A super-sized De Soto USD 232 Board of Education developed a preliminary list Monday from a pared-down $54 million bond issue designed to take care of the growing district's immediate needs.

The project list was developed with the involvement of the seven current board members and the three new board members elected last week. Unlike other recent bond issues, the list the 10 present and future board members agreed they could "sleep on" would build no new schools but would add classrooms to four district elementary schools and Mill Valley High School.

There was some urgency in moving the bond process forward, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said. If any projects were to be completed for the 2008-2009 school year, a bond referendum would have to be scheduled for September and it would take 16 weeks to get the proper paperwork in place for that election.

This year's board president Don Clark said at the start of the discussion the bond issue would be designed to address district needs for the next three to four years. Projects included in the $105.7 million bond issue district voters rejected in November needed beyond that timeframe, such as a third district high school and two new elementary schools, would be deferred to a future bond issue.

The delay would also allow the district time to update its strategic plan, which was last done in 2001. That districtwide effort of community involvement would give the board direction on constituent support on the size of high schools, grade alignments in schools and other critical issues, the current and future board members agreed.

Clark said the aim of the discussion and one to follow later this month was to find a project list all 10 current and future board members could support.

The discussion Monday started moving the board in that direction with a point-by-point discussion of projects and options. Clear consensus was found on some projects but others were placed in a questionable or tentative list for more discussion. Board members said they hoped to hear from constituents on the merits of those projects.

Discussion started with the $17 million expansion of Mill Valley High School, which would increase its enrollment capacity from 1,000 its enrollment capacity from 1,000 students to between 1,200 to 1,300. No one disputed the need to enlarge the school, but there were questions about how large it should be.

Board member-elect Bill Fletcher said the district should end its practice of piecemeal expansions.

"Don't keep adding on and adding on," he said. "Build it right."

Board member Randy Johnson said it should be stated upfront that a Mill Valley of 1,300 capacity wouldn't be large enough in the future to serve all those living in its present boundaries.

Clark conceded Johnson's point. Mill Valley would have to be enlarged sometime in the future or its boundaries would have to be adjusted to send students to De Soto High School or a future high school near Mill Creek Middle School, he said. But he said the proposed addition to 1,300 would serve the district's immediate needs.

With that understood, Johnson said although Mill Valley should eventually have an 1,800 student capacity, the time wasn't right.

"Strange as it may seem, I would be against increasing Mill Valley to 1,800 now," he said. "We would be sitting with a very empty school for a lot of years."

The Mill Valley addition would include another gym and enlarged weight room, but it would not include enhancements to the schools performing arts facilities. Although most board members agreed with Clark that those weren't immediate needs, board member Larry Meyers said they were and that he would support them.

A gym and expanded weight room for De Soto High School also make the preliminary list, although they were the subject of more debate. Johnson said although he personally thought they were needed, he didn't endorse putting them on a bond issue because De Soto voters wouldn't support such non-academic facilities, a point board member-elect Jim Thomas also voiced when classroom projects were considered for exclusion.

The two projects totaling an estimated $6.6 million were placed on the list of tentative projects to be discussed further.

A $1.7 million addition to Starside Elementary School in De Soto appeared to have a more secure place on the next bond proposal. The addition was needed because as a Title 1 school Starside had a number of special classes not required of other district elementaries. Although no one disagreed with that assessment, Johnson suggested room could be found by moving the school's fifth-graders to Lexington Trails Middle School, which will have a significant decrease in enrollment next year with the opening of Mill Creek Middle School.

Board member Sandy Thierer countered such a move would be disruptive, especially to Starside's special needs students. The district had used such a strategy in the past, but it was districtwide and not limited to one side of the district, she said.

Citing a spreadsheet showing Mize, Riverview and Clear Creek elementaries would not face overcrowding in the next three years, Clark originally suggested the $5.5 million expansion of those schools could be left to the next bond issue. However when district planning director Jack Deyoe said that would force the district to advance another bond issue in 18 months, Clark and other board members agreed to put the four-classroom expansions on the list.

It would also conform with a view he heard often during his re-election campaign that present elementary schools should be enlarged before new schools built and boundaries changed, Clark said.

The expansions were placed on the further discussion tentative list as were possible kindergarten additions to Starside, Clear Creak, Mize and Riverview elementaries. The expansions would be needed if the state mandates all-day kindergarten.

It was also agreed to include for further discussion a $10.5 million eastside early childhood program center at the Horizon Elementary campus. The building would be home to Parents as Teachers and mandated special needs and at-risk preschool programs for that side of the district.

It was also agreed the bond list should include $4 million for land acquisition, and tentatively $1.5 million for technology and a $2 million contingency.

After the meeting, Fletcher and fellow board member-elect Tim Blankenship said they were satisfied with how the discussion was run and their inclusion in the discussion. They also said they were comfortable with the preliminary list.

"It's a starting point," Fletcher said, adding that he did want to review information he requested about the number of classrooms the projects would add to different schools. "We were just talking -- I need to go on a tour of the schools. I want to see the need."

The bond list will be discussed next at the board's April 26 meeting.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.