Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2007

Starside, Mill Valley top bond priorities

August 2, 2007

(This is the first of a series of stories The Explorer will run examining the two bond questions to be put before USD 232 voters in the coming referendum)

One of the most common misunderstandings about the De Soto USD 232's bond issue is how many times voters will mark their ballots, said Alvie Cater, director of community relations.

The answer: twice.

Two questions will be listed on the ballot. Voters will mark yes or no to the first question and then yes or no to the second question.

Question 1 will ask voters for the authority to issue $51 million in bonds to pay for building expansions, classroom additions, land acquisitions, technology, security enhancements and an early childhood center.

Question 2 will ask voters for the authority to issue $19.5 million in bonds to pay for artificial turf and theaters at De Soto and Mill Valley high schools. Question 1 must pass for Question 2 to pass.

Cater said he had several people come up to him still confused about how they will vote, which he said worried him since ballots will be mailed out Aug. 29.

"We just really need to get the message out there that there are two questions on the ballot, not one," he said.

The district is attempting to educate voters by putting up posters in each of the buildings describing in detail what issues will be on the ballot. Each poster contains informational cards that patrons can take with them and voter registration forms. Cater said he hoped that parents see the boards when enrolling their students next week and at scheduled open houses. The district also plans to discuss the bond issue at a community meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 in the De Soto High School auditorium, 35000 W. 91 St, De Soto.

Growing pains

Although the housing market in the district has slowed following the national trend, more students are coming into the school district, said Jack Deyoe director of operations and planning. They are coming in at the primary level and working their way up.

Last year this district had almost 300 high school seniors, while at the same time there were more than 500 kindergarten students, Deyoe said. Right now there are four grade levels of more than 500 students that will eventually move to the high school level, creating a space problem, Deyoe said. And Mill Valley High School is in greatest need, he said.

Should the referendum pass, Mill Valley would be expanded to from its current enrollment capacity of 1,000 students to 1,200.

Mill Valley at the beginning of last year had about 880 students enrolled. Although 190 of those students graduated in May, at least 257 incoming freshman will be taking their place.

"That is nobody moving in, that is people from last year," Deyoe said.

The district predicts 965 students will be enrolled at Mill Valley this year, which accounts for the larger freshman class and some new students who will move in to the district.

Mill Valley is designed for 1,000 when used at capacity, but maximum capacity can mean some discomfort, Deyoe said.

"If you are near or past total capacity, every classroom or every room in the building is used each period," Deyoe said. "If that happens, the teachers have to go somewhere else for planning."

Mill Valley Principal Joe Novak said already some teachers had to go elsewhere for planning time or travel to different classrooms to teach.

"I do not have another living space left," he said. "Eighty percent of my classrooms are full all day everyday. That means only 20 percent are open for teachers to have uninterrupted plan time."

Last year, four teachers traveled to different classrooms to provide maximum use of the building space, Novak said. This year there will be eight traveling teachers.

Other issues include a lack of classroom space for special education, an overcrowded weight room and a small cafeteria space that forces the school to have seven lunch periods, Novak said.

"We'll still have school but it will be a great discomfort to our kids," he said.

What if the bond issue fails?

Thirty-three votes prevented the De Soto school bond issue from passing last year.

The November 2006 referendum ballot asked for $105.7 million to expand Mill Valley and De Soto high schools, to build two new elementary schools and an early childhood center, to provide technology upgrades and to acquire land for future development.

With Mill Valley approaching capacity, the district will have to act fast if this bond issue fails, Cater said.

"If this fails, that window begins to shrink daily," he said. "You need 16 months, minimum, for planning, implementation and research."

One option the district will investigate if the bond issue fails is changing boundary lines. This will send some students who would go to Mill Valley under current boundary lines to De Soto. When the district discussed changing boundary lines for the upcoming school year, it was a very emotional time for the parents and students who were affected, Cater said.

Starside

The other school now experiencing a crowding pinch is Starside Elementary School in De Soto. There, the problem is not so much rapidly growing enrollment but the type of student enrolled at the school.

Although four district elementary schools of the same design -- Starside, Riverview, Clear Creek and Mize -- would get a four-classroom addition should the bond referendum pass, Starside is seen as a special case and would get priority.

As was explained when the board was deliberating the bond last spring, all classrooms and many common areas in Starside are filled because of the need, often mandated, to provide special needs classrooms to its large number of Hispanic students.

The expansion would provide rooms for these special needs classes in regular classrooms and reclaim space in the Starside's library and <<<>>> for there intended uses.

Another issue the district will face if the question fails is how to fund additions and expansions to accommodate for growth, Deyoe said.

The 2007-08 proposed budget lists a capital outlay fund that pulls in 4.5 mills for the district to pay for maintenance and upkeep on current buildings. The district has the authority to ask for 8 mills in capital outlay fund, but Deyoe said that still wouldn't be enough to fund additions to Mill Valley. One mill pulls in $370,671 for the district. Currently, all of the capital outlay fund is allocated so that would leave 3.5 mills or about $1.3 million for the district to pay for other projects, which isn't much Deyoe said. The expansion to Mill Valley is proposed to cost $19 million on the bond referendum.

That money will fund an expansion to accommodate 1,300 students and provide classrooms, student lockers, restrooms, a cafeteria, an auxiliary gym and a weight room. It is scheduled to be completed by fall 2009 when Mill Valley's enrollment is projected to exceed its current capacity limit of 1,000.

"The fact that we need something, nobody is denying that," Deyoe said. "They are just having trouble deciding what they need.

"The basic needs of student growth and so forth it's not going away now. It's not going away in the future."


Head count as of Sept. 20, 2006

Kindergarten 528

First 535

Second 484

Third 466

Fourth 465

Fifth 445

Sixth 410

Seventh 412

Eighth 422

Ninth 404

Tenth 356

Eleventh 309

Twelfth 303

Non-grade level (counted as seniors) 2

Early childhood model students 45

Early childhood 75

Four year olds at risk 22

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