Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

USD 232 voters reject bond proposals

No clear way forward in wake of referendum’s defeat

September 20, 2007

Voters in De Soto USD 232 rejected two school bond proposals, including a $51 million "immediate needs" package that counted among its improvement added classrooms for Starside Elementary School and Mill Valley High School.

Preliminary results from the Johnson County Election Office show that Proposition 1 went down with 3,687 patrons voting yes and 4,162 patrons voting no. Proposition 2, which called for $19.5 million for new theaters and artificial turf at the district high schools, fared worse with 5,109 no votes to 2,720 yes.

Ballots were mailed to 17,489 registered voters and voter response was about 45 percent. Official results from the bond election will be released Monday.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the failure of the bond referendum meant the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education will address the issue at its next meeting.

"The board of education is going to need to determine a plan for gathering input from the patrons to see how they want to continue forward," she said.

Board President Janine Gracy said she was disappointed with the results.

"Now work begins on how we are going to manage the growth," she said. "I really think there needs to be a committee formed, and we will call it the growth management committee."

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. Starside was projected to be completed for the 2008-09 school year, while Mill Valley was to be completed by fall 2009.

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

Mill Valley High School's preliminary enrollment numbers as of Aug. 17 is 950 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.

"This will be a setback in providing the space that we need," Mill Valley Principal Joe Novak said. "I will say that we are going to make it happen. I think that Dr. Zoellner and our board of education will provide us direction and ask for our input on the different options that remain for us out there."

Gracy said part of the bond proposals were hurt by open opposition of board members.

"Any time a voter, a patron, sees that there is a vote no committee headed up by two school board members -- I don't care if those two school board members are the only people in the committee -- they think they must have a following," she said.

Board members Bill Fletcher and Randy Johnson went public with their opposition to the bond referendum. However, Johnson approved taking Question I to voters while Fletcher was not a member of the school board until July.

Johnson said he was shocked when he heard the bond referendum failed.

"With the mail votes, I was expecting this thing to fly through," he said.

Fletcher said the failure of the bond referendum showed that voters wanted change.

"I think it's a mandate from the people that it's a time for change," he said. "It's time for a change for the way we do business and maybe make changes in the administration."

Fletcher and Johnson suggested that capital outlay funds could be used to help finance needed expansions at Starside.

Johnson also expressed the desire to continue work on Starside without using Hollis and Miller Architects or J.E. Dunn Construction Company, companies that the district has used for past projects. Johnson said he would like to see other companies bid on future projects because two firms' past performance.

Failure of the Question I on the bond referendum also could be attributed to Question II, Johnson said.

"There were a lot of people still confused as far as how to vote on that," Johnson said. "I think it definitely dragged one down some."

Vote Yes committee member Chris Akin said she was disappointed that the bond failed and that the voter turn out was low.

"I heard a lack of planning was why people voted no," she said. "A lot of process went into it. The board took the one that failed and tweaked it a little bit to do a smaller bond."

Voters rejected a $105.7 million bond referendum in Nov. 2006 that included two new elementary schools, expansions to Mill Valley and De Soto high schools, an early childhood education center, technology upgrades and land acquisition. The November 2006 bond referendum failed by 33 votes.

Akin said she appreciated the effort members of the Vote Yes Committee put into promoting the bond referendum, and that she hoped other community members would at least get involved in the district's strategic planning process planned for the coming months.

At the board's next meeting Oct. 1, members will be discussing other options at addressing the district's immediate needs. Zoellner said some of those options could be boundary changes or moving grade levels to a school with more space. However, she said she would not discount any options.

Gracy said the board now has a lot of work to do.

"When the public votes and patrons decide not to pass a bond issue then we are faced with some very tough decisions," she said. "We are going to have to put everything out on the table. We are going to have to have solutions and they may be solutions that not everybody is going to like.

"Until we can get our patrons to understand the breadth and the depth of trying to educate our students in a growing district, we are going to have to continue to put Band-Aids on. I am sick of Band-Aids, and we are bleeding. The Band-Aids aren't holding."

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