Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

USD 232 Board advances two bond issues

May 10, 2007

Expected to approve a bond question Monday to put before voters in September, the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education instead approved two.

The board approved a $51 million bond issue designed to meet the growing district's needs for the next three to five years. In the same referendum, voters will vote on a second $19.5 million bond, which would build new 1,000-seat auditoriums to De Soto and Mill Valley high schools and place artificial turf on the athletic fields of both schools.

The smaller bond issue could only be approved if the larger first question passed.

De Soto Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the Johnson County Election Office had indicated a referendum could be scheduled for Sept. 18.

The approval of the two bond questions, which will be made formal at a special meeting May 14, was made after discussion involving the seven current board members and three new members elected last month. The first question passed on a 6-1 vote, with board member Randy Johnson voting no.

Johnson, who formed a group to oppose a $105.7 million bond issue rejected by district voters last November, said he thought the district's immediate needs could be addressed with contingency dollars left from the district's current bond issue and money in its capital outlay fund. He and board member-elect Bill Fletcher continued to call for more planning to assure the district's long-term needs were met.

Despite his reservations, Johnson said he would not work to defeat the bond.

"I don't think the secondary needs are being addressed," he said. "I just don't think we have a long-range plan.

"As a board member, I think it does address the district's basic educational needs."

District voters would decide if the bond represented a good value for their tax dollars, Johnson said.

The answer to that question was yes, board president Don Clark said, because everything in the $51 million bond would be needed no matter what the district's long-term plan.

Fletcher, who recently toured district schools, remained solidly opposed to the bond, questioning if there would be enough cafeteria room in Mill Valley High School or four elementary schools to get classroom enlargements and whether safety concerns were adequately addressed at Mill Valley. He said he wanted to do projects right the first time and not have to revisit buildings to add cafeteria space or other non-classroom expansions at more expense with a future bond issue.

Fletcher said parents should be aware a Mill Valley High School of from 1,250-to-1,300-enrollment capacity wouldn't be big enough to house students living south of Shawnee Mission Parkway and east of Kansas Highway 7. Before advancing a bond issue, he advocated the district address the "tripping point" that would necessitate an addition to De Soto High School or the building of a central high school on the Mill Creek Middle School campus.

In response, district planning director Jack Deyoe said the expansion of Mill Valley to 1,250-to-1,300 student capacity with the additional 750 enrollment at De Soto would provide for the district's immediate needs.

But more high school classrooms would be needed, Deyoe said. The number of students already enrolled in the district's first-, second-, third-, and fourth-grades -- who will sit at high school desks in the fall of 2014 -- exceeds 2,000, or the district's high school capacity with the Mill Valley expansion, the district planner said. With new families moving to the district and adding to those numbers, more high school classrooms would have to be found two to three years earlier, he said.

That would be a decision beyond the consideration of the current bond issue,

Clark said.

Before signaling his support for the bond, board member-elect Tim Blankenship asked if the new gymnasiums at the district's two high schools would end early morning and late-evening practices and provide adequate space for physical education classes.

It would alleviate the problems, Zoellner said, adding she was reluctant to promise long-term cures in the growing district.

The new gyms would be practice facilities with the seating in the existing gyms remodeled to accommodate 2,000 spectators. That would allow some tournaments to be contested at the two high schools, De Soto High School Principal Dave Morford said.

Fletcher did convince board members of the need to improve safety at Mill Valley and De Soto high schools so visitors have to pass through the central office to enter the school. It was also agreed the same upgrade was needed at Lexington Trails Middle School.

It was agreed to add $2 million to the $17 million Mill Valley High School addition to make the improvements to that building and earmark $450,000 more to make entries more secure at De Soto High School and Lexington Trails Middle School.

Discussion of the bond at an April 26 board meeting ended with the fate of a $10.5 million east-side early childhood center undecided. It was agreed Monday to include the bond issue when special services director Joe Vitt said it would open in August 2009 at 85 percent capacity.

At the end of the meeting, Fletcher said he remained opposed to the bond proposals because he didn't think the board had enough information. Decisions in the next few months would determine how vocal he was in his opposition, he said after the meeting.

High on that list would be the board's process of selecting a construction management firm and district architect. Although Fletcher and Johnson repeated their desire they consider more bidders for those services, Clark cut off discussion of that topic in the bond issue discussion, saying district professional service contracts would be an issue the next board would discuss in July.

When consensus started to form on the items for the bond question, Clark proposed a second question be but before voters for the two auditoriums and turf installations. Clark and board member Janine Gracy said they had heard many complaints the auditoriums were not to be included in a bond.

The artificial turf, such as Bonner Springs High School has on its field, would pay for itself in eight years through maintenance and watering savings, Clark said.

"If this is something the community wants, let's throw the question out there and let the voters decide," Clark said.

Although three other board members agreed with Clark, outgoing board member Bill Waye joined Johnson in voting against putting the second question on the ballot.

"If we do this, we're at $70 million, and we haven't built an elementary school, which in the next six years we're going to build two," he said. "It's more of a stretch than I can do."

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