Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

Capital funds use at Starside placed on hold

November 8, 2007

Starside Elementary School will remain crowded for a little while longer.

The De Soto USD 232 Board of Education declined Monday to vote on using capital outlay funds to pay for an expansion to Starside that would add more classroom space for special programs. The board cited the need to look into what feedback a districtwide scientific survey would provide (see related story). Some classes currently are using activity areas and the cafeteria.

District facilities director Denis Johnson presented a plan that would use $1.7 million of the $8.2 million capital outlay fund to pay for implementing previously designed plans created by Hollis and Miller Architects. The proposal included the same plans that were listed on the $70.5 million bond issue that voters rejected Sept. 18.

Had the board approved the use of capital outlay to fund the expansions, new classroom space could have been completed before the 2008-09 school year.

Board member Don Clark said there was a bigger issue at hand than just the need for more classroom space at Starside.

"One of the things we've talked about is east versus west," he said. "I really think we have to take that into consideration. If all of a sudden we take capital outlay to handle the projects here, is that going to make this separation between east versus west even bigger?"

Some board members also questioned the use of capital outlay funds for a building expansion project and worried it would set a precedent. Another concern was reducing the capital outlay funds available should an emergency arise.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said using capital outlay funds for Starside would not leave the district struggling financially. However, she did sympathize with the board's concerns about how the other side of the district would view using the funds for Starside.

"I think we have a really healthy surplus here," she said. "I wouldn't have had Denis bring this to you if I didn't feel we could do that.

"I'm not sure the community will see that as positive. You are going to give this to Starside and what happens to the other buildings, are you going to leave us in a lurch?"

Board President Janine Gracy said she was surprised by the board's decision not to move forward with Starside.

"I really walked in thinking tonight that Starside expansions would be a hands-down thing," she said.

Gracy said she felt conflicted because although she wanted to see Starside expansions, she felt other buildings in the district like Mill Valley High School needed expansions as well. The board had the option to use capital outlay funds for other building projects such as expansions to Mize, Clear Creek and Riverview elementaries, but it would have needed to increase the mill levy by 3.5 mills, which would increase property taxes. Funding Starside would not have required a mill levy increase.

"I think it would be dangerous to raise the mill levy and then ask for a bond," Gracy said.

Starside Principal Paula Hill pleaded with the board to approve more classroom space in order to serve her growing diverse population. About 10 years ago, 5 percent of Starside's students were English language learners. Now that is about 20 percent of the school's population. The state mandates that students in special programs such as this be served in a separate classroom, which is causing a space crunch at Starside, Hill said.

"The dentist comes, and I have to empty my stage off and put the dentist on there and tell the band kids they have to meet in the cafeteria," Hill said. "I understand that they needed to look at this globally and how it was going to affect the entire district by making an exception for Starside. Now it's postponed for another school year.

"I think what will happen is the child who will need those services and who we could accommodate if we had more space will not receive those services."

Board member Randy Johnson said he would have supported using capital outlay funds for Starside if the board agreed to receive requests for proposals from other businesses instead of staying with Hollis and Miller Architects, the company that designed the preliminary plans for Starside expansions. The district already has paid about $14,500 to Hollis and Miller for the Starside plans alone, Denis Johnson said.

"I don't like the idea of throwing $15,000 down the drain," Randy Johnson said. "I would struggle with that, but then I would go ahead and take some construction bids. I could live with that as long as we do not allow Hollis and Miller to draw another plan."

Asking for proposals from other companies would prolong an addition, Denis Johnson said.

"It could push it out to Christmas next year," he said.

"It could push it out to Christmas next year," he said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.