Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2007

Board sets ‘what next’ meeting

October 4, 2007

De Soto USD 232 is headed back to the drawing board.

The De Soto Board of Education voted Monday night to have a special meeting Oct. 30 to discuss how it should manage the district's growth following the failure of two bond issues totaling $70.5 million last month that would have provided space to address the district's current growth issues.

At its first meeting following the results of the bond referendum, the board had an audience of 85 patrons and 11 of them addressed the board during the patron input portion of the meeting.

Board President Janine Gracy began the meeting by addressing the sentiment expressed by some in the district that previous school boards have not planned well.

"I want to remind the board and the community that we have utilized community groups to help us with planning for this last five years of growth," she said. "A strategic plan was the result of those community groups, but, as the record shows, the board has not always chosen to follow the recommendations of our patrons."

Gracy said the board's next step included a long-term plan that will address what the district knew was needed in the future.

"Long-term planning is not new to this district as some would like to believe," she said. "In November 2006, the board of education placed a long-term facility bond issue in front of voters. When this plan failed by 32 votes, the BOE came back with a short-term bond issue that was also defeated last month by over 500 votes. We are now in a situation of making emergency plans o take care of the tremendous growth we are seeing."

Immediate needs that would have been addressed had the bond issue passed included $1.7 million for classroom additions at Starside Elementary School and a $19 million expansion at Mill Valley High School. The Starside addition was projected to be completed for the 2008-09 school year, while the Mill Valley project was to be completed by fall 2009.

Starside's large population of students with special needs requires space for classes mandated by the state. However, classroom space already is limited with classrooms taking up space in the school's activity area.

Mill Valley's enrollment as of Sept. 20 was 933 students. Enrollment projections based on current boundary lines have the school outgrowing its 1,000-student-capacity building next year with a projected enrollment of 1,010 students.

Gracy said these issues will be addressed at the board's special meeting later this month when the board discusses what solutions there are available to remedy the situation.

"I have asked staff to review any and all options for handling these two issues that will create the least amount of disruption to the learning environment while providing relief for the enrollment needs and maintaining our relentless focus on student learning," Gracy said.

Ann Carlin of Shawnee offered her suggestion for managing the growth at Mill Valley High School during the patron input section of the meeting.

"It seems like we have the classroom space available. It just may not be in the right building or in the right places," she said. "Maybe the kids from Horizon, Clear Creek, Prairie Ridge and Riverview could attend middle school for sixth and seventh grades at Mill Creek Middle School and the same group of kids could attend Monticello Trails Middle School for eighth and ninth. Then Mill Valley High School would have 10th through 12th."

Although board members were not able to respond to Carlin's comments, her suggestion was supported by other speakers.

Later in the meeting, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner asked the board to approve the exploration of hiring someone to do a scientific survey to discover what patrons in the district want. The study would help with long-term planning that needs to be done immediately, she said. The board approved the exploration with hopes of hearing from one of the suggested companies at its meeting Nov. 5.

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