Archive for Thursday, August 9, 2007

Strategic plan update on tap beyond bond

August 9, 2007

De Soto School District patrons soon will vote on a $51 million bond question that asks for school improvements meant to address immediate needs. But whether the bond passes or not, patrons are promised a role in determining the district's future plans.

Administrators have indicated to the school board that it is time for the district to craft a new strategic plan.

The current bond issue, which addresses imminent growth and space issues, has sparked patrons to ask questions about appropriate school size, classroom size and the direction of the district.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said a new strategic plan would address all of those issues.

"The long-range plan that needs to happen will give us the community input for what kind of schools they want to have," she said.

The district has had a strategic planning process since the late 1990s, said district operations and planning director Jack Deyoe.

"That set the tone for the current buildings," Deyoe said. "The board of education during that period of time and the patrons decided since we were a new, growing district that we could do things differently."

One of the things the district wanted to at that time was smaller schools, and the strategic plan set the maximum for the high schools at 1,000 students, middle schools at 750 students and elementary schools at 550 students, Deyoe said.

"But as businesses go and so forth, strategic plans can change based on the business climate," he said.

Although the most recent strategic plan calls for a maximum high school of size of 1,000 students, one of the items on Question 1 of the upcoming bond referendum contradicts that number. The district is asking patrons to approve the authority to issue bonds to pay for a $19 million expansion to Mill Valley High School, bringing its maximum occupancy to 1,300 students. Deyoe said there are two reasons for the contradiction.

"We are seven to nine years further into our growth than we were at the time our original plans were done," he said.

The second reason is the combination of the density and the demographics of the area that Mill Valley serves, Deyoe said.

"What's different is that our demographics has extremely young people so the size of families and the number of families of school age children are higher than they are in other areas," he said.

Mill Valley currently serves the district's entire area east of Kansas Highway 7 and north of 55th Street west of the highway.

However expected growth in the area by Horizon Elementary School will eventually cause more changes -- either to the district's school boundary lines or to the size or amount of the high schools.

"The area south of Shawnee Mission Parkway where we are building Horizon Elementary has the potential for thousands of patrons in the future," Deyoe said. "There are vast areas that are being projected for development that haven't yet been. You could not build one building large enough to handle everything that's there so what you want to concentrate on is to build to handle everything within a mile-and-a-half or two-mile span."

Deyoe said the areas within that span would eventually reach a plateau and growth would level off. However, the area around Horizon Elementary will soon drive the need for another high school, Deyoe said.

"That's why we bought that site at Mill Creek to have a high school that would serve the 83rd Street corridor," he said.

But before a third high school can be considered the district needs to develop a strategic plan that will help guide decisions made by the school board in the future regarding the future growth of the district, Deyoe said.

"It doesn't create a set plan," Deyoe said. "It creates a road map for how to get there."

Board member Jim Thomas said the strategic planning process will draw in input from patrons, administration, board members, staff and students. He said he would like to see a strategic plan sooner rather than later.

"I imagine it's going to cause some socialization of the board because it is a major intensive process," he said. "It's the visioning process of the board and the community bringing us together in the same direction."

Board member Randy Johnson said he would like to see a strategic plan that included more classrooms and larger schools.

Deyoe said in the past patrons have said they would like smaller schools and that they didn't want the De Soto School District to become the next Shawnee Mission or Olathe school district.

However, Johnson said in his experience bigger schools also can be beneficial.

"I went to the Shawnee Mission school district, and I was a Shawnee Mission West graduate," he said. "I graduated from a class of 800."

When it comes time for the district to accommodate more high school students, Johnson said the one thing he wanted to avoid was changing boundaries and sending some students in the Mill Valley area to De Soto High School where there currently was more space for growth.

"I do not want to go back to the boundary issue," he said. "That was a terrible issue. I do believe the administration is trying to scare a lot of people with the boundary issue. As a board member, I know we have other options."

One of those options would be a new high school, such as Deyoe mentioned to serve those areas of the district that are expected to grow in the next five to 10 years. Another option would be to completely utilize classroom space in Mill Valley, Johnson said.

"We keep hearing that they are utilizing all the spaces and they are really not," he said. "A number of the positions in the district are classroom planning times and dead time and stuff. If you have to utilize those classroom areas in those planning times then you need to do that."

Another thing Johnson hopes to bring up during the planning process is the amount of classrooms in the elementary schools. He said the classrooms in the current bond issue for Riverview, Clear Creek and Mize elementary schools are not needed right now with the opening of Horizon Elementary School next week. What is needed, he said, are more classrooms in Starside Elementary School.

"If this bond passes we should be in really good shape elementary school wise for a long time," he said.

The need for the strategic planning process is unavoidable, Johnson said.

"We don't have a long-term plan, and we've got to have a long-term plan," he said. "This bond issue is a Band-Aid, and that is just not going to work."

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