Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bond proposals failed to stir USD 232 voters

September 20, 2007

Other than the twin defeats, the most striking thing about the De Soto USD 232 bond referendum results released Tuesday was the low participation rate. Supporters will point to the poor turnout as the reason for the downfall of the bonds. And certainly the meager percent response to a mail-in ballot that was supposed to increase participation contributed to the defeat of Question 1.

Those who would lay the blame of the bond issue's defeat at the abysmal 45 percent turnout should realize not voting is also a decision. The decision in this case was to toss the ballot aside because the district and bond supporters were unable to convince voters there was a compelling reason to support the package of improvements purposed. Nothing in the priority Question 1 package -- not the new gyms, the east side preschool center, the elementary school expansions or the Mill Valley High School addition -- gained traction or a constituency.

On possible explanation for the low participation is simple voter fatigue as the latest bond referendum came 10 months after a failed bond issue and last spring's contentious school board elections.

Whether that was the case or not, voters clearly weren't convinced of the pressing need for the proposals. And it seems enough parents didn't perceive their children would immediately suffer without the proposed improvements.

That's not surprising considering the ballots arrived at many district homes just as parents witnessed an improvement in the children's circumstances. The opening of Horizon Elementary School relieved crowding in east side elementary schools. Youngsters who had been traveling to De Soto from near Kansas Highway 7, started school much closer to home in the new Mill Creek Middle School in the center of the district.

Moreover, around the district, students aren't in mobile classrooms, elementary age children aren't forced to find classroom space in middle schools and most students in the district attend schools in what could be logically defined as in their neighborhoods. With a direct connection of situational pain absent, voters yawned.

The new theaters and artificial turf proposed in Question 2 didn't excite voters either. Rather, they proved greatly unpopular and it is realistic to suggest a measure that failed to get 35 percent of the votes cast harmed the more important first question.

Those types of temporary solutions soon may be necessary as the district attempts to find a solution to growth that can find the support of the majority -- a process that will involve a community effort to develop a new strategic plan.

Another bond referendum probably won't be placed before voters before the August primary at the earliest and perhaps next November. The second option might be best for the district considering the presidential election would ensure a large turnout.

That, and the measures the district will have to put in place to deal with growth next year, may provide the boost needed to finally pass a new growth package.

But a better solution would be for the promised strategic planning process to provide consensus on a plan for how the district deals with growth. It is hoped the plan that emerges appeals to a wide swath of district patrons and could be unanimously supported by the district board members.

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