Archive for Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sides spend $8,600 in De Soto USD 232 bond referendum

January 11, 2007

Financial reports filed with the Johnson County Election Office show supporters spent more than twice that of those against the proposed $105.7 million USD 232 school bond before the November referendum.

De Soto USD 232 Board of Education member Randy Johnson started a controversy last fall when he began a campaign to defeat the bond issue after voting in favor of putting it on the ballot. His group, Citizens for Responsible Education, was formed for that purpose. Johnson said district spending was one of the major concerns in the bond issue, although he said he understood the need for more space in schools.

Donors to the bond issue opposition group include De Soto school board member Randy Johnson for $1,720; Shawnee City Councilman Kevin Straub, $510; Sam Tyler, $500; Leon Coker, $250; Dean Weller, $25; and C. Knapp; $20 -- all living within the district boundaries. Items purchased were signs, advertising in The De Soto Explorer and phone calls.

The Vote "Yes" Committee, formerly the Citizens Committed to Children and Community, received donations from several contracting companies that could have stood to gain from passage of the bond issue: J.E. Dunn Construction Company donated $3,000; Hollis & Miller Architects donated $1,178.54; Henderson Engineers donated $1,000; Shafer, Kline & Warren, Inc., public works engineers, donated $1,000; and Rodrock Development donated $250. Karen Kelley of Overland Park also donated $250. Items purchased were postage for mailers, signs and print advertising. Out of about $7,600 raised, around $2,000 remains.

Vote "Yes" Committee treasurer Vicky Needham said the remaining funds would be given to the next group to promote a USD 232 bond issue. School officials have said another bond issue is imperative to provide more space for the district's burgeoning population.

Needham said the difference in Johnson's campaign was the negativity. While looking at the list of donors to the opposing group, she was concerned.

"The only thing I can really comment on is the people on this list aren't interested in our schools, our children or our community," she said. "Instead of spending a lot of money, what they really spent was a lot of misinformation and innuendo and twisting the facts."

Needham criticized the Citizens for Responsible Education group for printing false information to encourage people to vote "no" on the bond issue.

"That kind of thing gets you a lot of play where the money doesn't count," she said.

Johnson said throughout the campaign that although he opposed the bond issue, he supported the schools and understood the need for more space. His concerns were overspending on construction projects and district bidding practices, among others. Johnson said his group received wide support from the De Soto community.

"We didn't spend a whole lot," he said. "But the support, that's the big thing. I do have a small business in De Soto and a lot of the support we got was moral support."

Johnson said he wasn't surprised by the donations from contractor firms and noted the same groups donated to pro-bond campaigns during the 2002 bond election. However, he said he did oppose the district paying for bond information material.

District communications director Alvie Cater said the district spent about $7,500 for sending out mailers to voters. That's about one mailer for each patron in the district, he said. But, he stressed the mailers did not tell the voters how to vote.

"The district is obligated to put information into the hands of patrons," he said. "That's not 'Vote Yes' material. Obviously, the district and the board of education endorsed the bond issue, but we didn't tell people how to vote. We can't."

Johnson disagreed and said the district's material was skewed.

"The other side of the district (Shawnee) was giving their kids stuff to take home to parents," he said. "It's walking the line for them to say it's not pro-bond."

Johnson said the group would continue to support involvement in De Soto school board election races.

Johnson said candidates would step up to challenge incumbents.

Needham also said that since the filing deadline was Jan. 23, there was still plenty of time for community members who could support a bond issue to file.

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