Archive for Thursday, September 13, 2007

Little unity seen in district bond voting patterns

September 13, 2007

In the minds of some district patrons, the De Soto USD 232's biggest rival is itself.

Although there are four cities within the district, the residents of De Soto and Shawnee seem to be most at odds.

Bud Kobler of De Soto said the school district was managed poorly and that his taxes were not well spent. His ideal local school district would not include western Shawnee, he said.

"I think the district is too big," he said. "I think we ought to split it up. Shawnee Mission could probably take over the eastern part of the De Soto School District."

De Soto school board member Randy Johnson said Kobler's sentiments were something he frequently heard from De Soto residents.

"De Soto is much more established and differs generationally," Johnson said. "A lot of these folks grew up with classrooms, and that is it.

"There are a lot of them on fixed incomes and their houses, just in insurance and taxes alone, cost them more now than when they had mortgages."

Although Johnson recognized that there are two sides of the district, he said one of the school board's goals was to try to bridge that gap.

"We all want what is best for students," he said.

However, defining what is best for students is the challenge as the residents of De Soto and Shawnee have shown with school bond referendum results.

Voters in the city of De Soto have voted against nearly all the district's bond questions the past 15 years (individual municipality information is not available for mail-ballot elections). The last time a district bond referendum got the majority of votes in De Soto precincts was a 1994 $14.725 million bond referendum for a new high school in De Soto, Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee, air conditioned elementary schools and land acquisition.

Conversely, Shawnee voters have supported every referendum during that same time period.

That history pointed to regrettable split in the district, said Chris Steen of Shawnee.

"It should not be an us versus them mentality because we all have a common goal and that is the education of our children," he said.

The spilt could be traced to school board members, said Steen's wife, Cyndy Steen.

"They are the role models, and they are creating that De Soto versus Shawnee division," she said.

Randi Flinn of Shawnee agreed and said that two of the board members, Randy Johnson and Bill Fletcher, were the cause of that division because of their position against the current school bond referendum.

"I think they are stirring up a hornet's nest," she said.

Flinn said there also was a misunderstanding between the two sides of the district.

"It's the misconception that the west side is paying for the east side," Flinn said. "They see all the growth, and they think they are supporting our kids. Our tax base is higher, and they are not supporting our kids.

"They would like to keep it a small town feeling, and I understand that wholeheartedly. That's why I want small schools."

One way the district could make amends between the two cities is to hold a meeting, Flinn said.

"We could have a joint community meeting so that people can understand that a lot of what we want is what's best for the kids," she said.

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