Archive for Thursday, March 1, 2007

Open forum generates facilities views

Last week’s growth forum viewed as a positive meeting by board

March 1, 2007

After losing a bond question by only 32 votes, the De Soto USD 232 School Board now has to look at how to accommodate the growing student population.

Board members believe they are moving in the right direction following Thursday's open forum discussion. Six proposed projects were up for debate including new buildings, additions to existing buildings, land acquisition and technology.

Data from superintendent Sharon Zoellner showed that Mill Valley High School and Starside Elementary would be at capacity within three years. Board members seemed to agree that building a new elementary is necessary. Sandra Thierer suggested even that may not be enough to keep up with growth.

"We need to look at if we'll need a second new elementary on the west side of Shawnee," Thierer said. "I don't want the board to have to come back in a year and a half to ask for another school."

Some board members suggested that planning for growth could have been better in the past. Board member Randy Johnson said before sending a bond for new schools to voters, he wanted to look at other ways of accounting for growth.

"If we had looked at increasing capacities last year, we may not be having this conversation," Johnson said. "We would be adding classrooms to existing schools."

Debate arose at talk of school capacities. De Soto High School is set to 750 student capacity, while Mill Valley is at capacity with 1000 students. Some board members suggested increasing the capacity by adding classrooms to Mill Valley or even to convert De Soto High School into a middle school and build a new, larger high school closer to Shawnee.

Board member Larry Meyer said he would rather not see the De Soto school district moving toward larger schools. "If I wanted my kids to go to a bigger high school I would have moved into a different district," he said.

The board did agree that nobody wanted to see class sizes get larger than current levels.

While the board members made progress on their discussion, some audience members pointed out that these many of these projects were voted down on the recent bond. Board member Bill Waye said the problem with getting the public to vote for a bond issue is the taxes.

"When people vote in Blue Valley School District, they know most of the tax base is commercial," Waye said. "Blue Valley is 80 percent commercial; we are 80 percent residential."

Waye prefaced his remarks, saying he would likely be gone from the board before a new bond passed. Some discussion on the board, though, indicated they would like to bring a bond to vote by August so that a new school could be built before the 2009-10 school year.

With several school elections approaching, several candidates were in attendance. Some in the audience suggested the board may be rushing to put forward a new bond without first considering other, more fiscally conservative options.

"Maybe we should build less fancy schools or buy previously used blueprints," said candidate Kevin Straub. "The board has this idea that we can't have more than 1250 students at Mill Valley and that is a wrong number."

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