Archive for Thursday, September 13, 2007

USD 232 board doesn’t OK early start on bond projects

September 13, 2007

With one member absent, the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education deadlocked, and therefore rejected, a proposal that would have given the district a jumpstart on three bond projects on the current $51 million bond issue.

The 3-3 vote means the district won't be able to begin work on bond projects if passed, until after the board's next meeting Oct.1. At that time, the board will know the outcome of two bond referendums now before voters.

District facilities director Denis Johnson presented to the board Monday night a proposal from Hollis and Miller Architects to begin work on bond projects with more aggressive schedules later this month, pending the passage of the bond referendum.

Projects to be addressed immediately included the $19 million Mill Valley High School expansion, the $1.7 million Starside Elementary School expansion and the $10.5 million Early Childhood Center to be built on the site of Horizon Elementary School. These projects are part of $51 million in expansions, security enhancements and land acquisition that are included in Question I on the bond referendum that was mailed to voters beginning Aug. 29.

Voters in the district have until noon Sept. 18 to return mail-in ballots to the Johnson County Election Office. As of last Friday, 17,489 were issued and 5,220 have been returned.

The facilities director said approving the proposal would allow the district to receive bids early in 2008, which he said needs to be done to meet the projected completion dates set by the district.

The classroom addition at Starside is proposed to be completed by next fall, and Mill Valley and the Early Childhood Center have a completion date of fall 2009.

However, board member Randy Johnson said he thought it best to wait until after the election because the architects might not be needed. Johnson motioned to postpone the decision on the architect until after the election and was seconded by Bill Fletcher. After Tim Blankenship voted for the motion, the vote was tied because of the absence of the seventh member, Larry Meyer. Janine Gracy, Don Clark and Jim Thomas dissented.

Because of the 3-3 tie, the motion died. However, Gracy suggested the board call Meyer, who had said he would make himself available by phone. When Meyer couldn't be reached, the board agreed to wait until its next meeting Oct. 1 to vote on an architect, thereby postponing bond work, if approved, until after the approval of an architect.

In other business, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner asked the board members if they were interested in bringing in someone from The Cambridge Group to discuss a strategic planning model and to answer questions from the board. The district used this model the last two times it went through the strategic planning process.

Zoellner said strategic planning is a lengthy process that involves getting input from the community, students, staff and administration. The process is meant to address the community's wishes regarding things like school size, classroom size and even the district's mission statement.

Some board members were hesitant to pay for someone from The Cambridge Group to come in and make a presentation on their model, when brochure information could be used instead.

Blankenship asked why he couldn't learn about The Cambridge Group's model from its Web site instead of spending $3,000 to $5,000 to bring someone in.

Board president Gracy said bringing someone in would offer the board members a better understanding of the model.

"It's one thing to read the information, but it's another to really have that dialog with someone who really has a sense of that model," she said. "You can't ask questions to a brochure, but you certainly can to someone who is presenting."

Board member Johnson said he disagreed with paying an outside company to aid the district in the strategic planning process. He said the school board members were capable of making the strategic plan on their own.

However, Zoellner pointed out that the last time the district went through the strategic planning process in 2001 it was smaller and it used some outside help then.

"We don't have the resources at the central office to handle the process internally like we have done in the past," she said.

Thomas, who was a member of the school board during its last strategic planning process, said the strategic planning process shouldn't be taken lightly.

"It's not something that you can do passively," he said. "It takes an awful lot of energy from the community."

Although the board did not approve hiring the outside consultant, it did agree to hear a presentation on the district's most recent strategic plan and the process that it took to create that plan.

In other business, the board:

  • Heard presentations by all school principals regarding their approaches to improve literacy in the district, which is one of the board's goals.
  • Agreed to allow the district to explore the cost and options of security cameras in the schools.
  • Offered suggestions for its legislative platform including additional bus funding for students who live within 2.5 miles of the school but have to cross a dangerous highway, exemption from city-approved tax abatements and building space that would be needed if the state mandated all-day kindergarten.
  • Saw a presentation on the district's preliminary adequate yearly progress scores and an update on the learning coach method in the district.

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