Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2007

No consensus yet for new bond issue

May 3, 2007

A second discussion on a new De Soto USD 232 bond referendum appears to have narrowed its cost to $38 million to $48.5 million, with the inclusion of a $10.5 million east-side early childhood center the big remaining question mark.

Still, board members haven't arrived at a list all said they would support. The evening ended with this year's board president Don Clark failing to get unanimous support on what should be on the bond issue.

Board member Randy Johnson, who campaigned against the failed $105.7 million November bond referendum, said he continued to have doubts about the east-side early childhood center. Slated for the Horizon Elementary School campus, the center would be home to the east side's Parents As Teachers program and preschool programs.

Johnson said the new early childhood center had an expensive price tag for a center that would open at far less than capacity.

"I just feel there's a different way to do early childhood," he said.

Board member-elect Bill Fletcher said his reservations were not out of opposition to any one project.

"I want to see plans of what we're going to do before I say 'yes' or 'no,'" he said.

It was learned notebooks distributed to sitting board members with information, including initial drawings of bond projects, were not given to the newly elected board members. De Soto Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said she would see that those were given to Fletcher and two other board members elected last month -- Tim Blankenship and Jim Thomas.

Although she said she would support the bond question, board member Janine Gracy said she was disappointed new auditoriums for the district's two high schools were not included. The two auditoriums would add $18 million to the bond's total.

"I couldn't go to sleep at night if I didn't say many patrons want the auditoriums," she said.

Despite the misgivings at the meeting's end, progress appeared to have been made with agreement reached to include a $17 million addition to Mill Valley High School, and four-classroom addition to Starside Elementary School in De Soto and Clear Creek, Mize and Riverview elementaries in Shawnee at the cost of $1.5 million each.

That consensus came after board member Randy Johnson early in the discussion questioned the need for a bond issue this year, saying he didn't see anything that couldn't wait for a year or two and the completion of a new long-range plan for the district. Different scheduling alternatives could provide the needed space at Mill Valley High School during that time, he said, and room at Starside Elementary School in De Soto could be made available by moving the school's fifth-graders to Lexington Trails Middle School, which will see a steep decline in enrollment with the August opening of Mill Creek Middle School.

What was needed, Johnson and Fletcher said at different times during the discussion, was a long-term plan that would allow the district to build schools of the right size and with the right amount of space in cafeterias, commons area and other shared areas.

Clark started the bond discussion April 9 with the explanation it would include projects designed to meet the district's needs for the next three to four years. Projects not needed in that timeframe or those that would greatly change current district policy, such as school size or grade attendance reconfigurations, would wait, he said at that meeting.

A community effort to update the district's strategic plan would be scheduled for 2008, Zoellner said.

Meanwhile, district officials said the projects considered for next fall's bond referendum would accomplish Fletcher and Johnson's stated goal of providing the space to meet all the projected growth in their boundary areas. For Mill Valley High School, that meant a school of 1,300 enrollment would be significant to all the built-out subdivisions north of Shawnee Mission Parkway and east of Kansas Highway 7, district planning director Jack Deyoe said.

His proposals to move Starside fifth-graders to Lexington Trails wasn't meant to be a permanent solution to the school's overcrowding, Johnson said.

"I'm talking about a two-year switch until we get a long-term plan," he said.

Starside Principal Paula Hill was principal at Lexington Trails when a past board moved fifth-graders to the building before more elementary space was available. She told the board last Thursday that forced her to run "two schools in one" and isolate the fifth and sixth grades from the seventh- and eighth-graders.

The "dynamics" of the age groups are very different, Hill said. She suggested there would be potential social problems to putting fifth-grade girls in a building with eighth-grade boys and practical logistical problems, such as providing lunches for fifth-graders, who she said weren't ready to order off the a la carte menu.

Hill also questioned the effect of shifting the fifth-graders for two years and then returning to the current class configuration.

"I would rather deal with the overcrowding we have right now, than put kids through that," she said.

Starside has one of the district's smallest elementary enrollments, but needs more space because of the special programs required for its high percentage of Hispanic and special needs students, Hill said. The proposed four-classroom expansion would allow school officials to provide room for those programs and move classes out of the school's commons area and media center, she said.

He talked to 30 to 40 people in the community about the issue, Clark said. A few said they were OK with moving fifth-graders to Lexington Trails, but "90 percent of the people I talked to said, 'Let's do it another way.'"

"I'm not prepared to move fifth-graders to the middle school," he said.

The Starside addition got the endorsement of Fletcher, who shared Johnson's reservations about moving ahead with a long-range plan. Having toured district schools in the past few weeks, he said the Starside addition was the district's top priority.

Enrollment at Clear Creek, Mize and Riverview elementaries will decline next year with the opening of Horizon Elementary, eliminating the need to use their commons areas and medias centers for classrooms. However, it was generally agreed to include four-classroom additions to all three schools because one of the messages from the recent school board election was the district build those elementary schools larger rather than change boundaries, board members agreed.

District facilities director Denis Johnson said the additions would not increase the schools' enrollments from their current numbers, it would allow the schools to grow back to their current enrollment without using commons areas and media centers for classrooms. The schools would be large enough to accommodate the projected growth in their boundaries, he said.

In response to board member Johnson's comment, Mill Valley Principal Joe Novak said he would have to look at how class scheduling alternatives would affect crowding at Mill Valley. But he said there was already a lack of space for teachers to prepare for classes and make confidential calls to parents during free periods.

"I'm chasing teachers in and out of rooms right now at 75 to 85 percent capacity," he said.

Stricken from a possible bond list last Thursday were kindergarten additions to district elementaries, which would be needed if the Kansas Legislature funded all-day kindergarten. Zoellner said the Legislature did not make that change this session.

The bond total with the east-side early childhood center was $48.5 million. Denis Johnson said those estimates were good now, but another unexpected event like Hurricane Katrina could change costs in the construction industry. To hedge against inflation, he was figuring a 6 percent inflation hedge instead of the 4 percent used in the past, he said.

To get projects open for the 2008-2009 school year, the bond would have to be scheduled in the late summer or early fall and likely sometime in September, Zoellner said.

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