Board asks for details on De Soto bond issue
De Soto USD 232 Board of Education members said developing the district's next bond resolution can wait until they know how much the proposed bond projects would increase patrons' tax rates.
"Before I approve anything going forward, I want to know what the mill levies are going to be," board member Bill Fletcher said at Monday's board meeting. "I want to know what the mill increase's immediate effects are going to do by doing these projects all at once."
The board tabled its discussion on bond projects for its June 2 meeting, when it will have to approve a bond resolution to get it on the Nov. 4 ballot. Board member Tim Blankenship was absent from Monday's meeting.
At its last two meetings the Board of Education looked over three proposed bond projects including expansions to Mill Valley and De Soto high schools and a seventh elementary school at 55th Street and Belmont Drive in Shawnee.
Although the project cost initially was estimated at $72.85 million, Hollis and Miller Architects vice president Kirk Horner said Monday that they had lowered the estimate to about $71.5 million, accounting for 12 percent inflation instead of 15 percent inflation based on discussions with contractors and other school districts. That brought the estimated project costs to $22.5 million for the seventh elementary school, $25.78 million for De Soto High and $23.3 for Mill Valley.
Hollis and Miller drew up the plans for expanding Mill Valley to 1,400 students, De Soto High to 1,000 students and the seventh elementary school that would house 600 students in the same building plan as Horizon Elementary School.
At the Board of Education's May 5 meeting, board member Don Clark asked Horner for plans and cost estimates to expand De Soto High to 1,400, which would match Mill Valley's proposed expansion. Clark said he was concerned about looking at the school district's future - something he said he wished he did with Mill Valley.
"One of the first decisions I made as a board member was to expand Mill Valley to 1,000 students," he said, noting that now he is looking at expanding the high school again.
However board member Randy Johnson warned that the bond projects already totaled more than $70 million. He said he was concerned patrons wouldn't support a high-cost bond issue that would leave a building largely empty for several years. District facilities director Denis Johnson said at the board's May 5 meeting that De Soto High wouldn't reach 1,000 student capacity until 2015-16, so it would be much longer before if would reach a capacity of 1,400 students.
"Right now we would have a bunch of empty space and I can't even think about it," Randy Johnson said. "Who's paying for it now and who's paying it later?"
Board member Jim Thomas also disagreed with expanding De Soto to 1,400 students instead of 1,000 students.
"Let's not forget why we are building the buildings," he said. "I am still not in favor of expanding Mill Valley to 1,400 students. Every time we take a building up we are putting at risk the educational outputs."
That comment sparked a heated discussion between Thomas and Randy Johnson. Although Randy Johnson agreed with keeping De Soto High capacity at 1,000, he disagreed that the quality of a school decreased with the number of students.
"You can't tell me that a 5,000-student high school out there somewhere doesn't do as well as a 500-student high school," he said.
Although the small debate had board members on edge, Clark said he was glad that the discussion occurred.
"Whether we like it or not, we need to have these discussions," he said. "When we walk out of here and we walk out with a bond issue, we have to be in favor of it and we have to come to a compromise."
Thomas and Meyer said they both were willing to compromise and go against research by expanding Mill Valley to 1,400 students to serve the patrons in the school's nearest neighborhoods. But Meyer said there was another important issue at hand.
"What will this community support in terms of a bond," he said. "We can compromise all we want to, but if the community is not going to support it we are wasting our time. The community is watching us."
Board president Janine Gracy was concerned that even a $70 million bond issue might not garner patrons' support. In September 2007, patrons voted down a $70.5 million two-question bond referendum that asked for an expansion to Mill Valley, a gym addition at De Soto High, elementary additions and an early childhood education center in its first question and for theater additions and artificial turf in its second question.
The September 2007 bond failure came on the heels of a $105.7 million bond issue in November 2006 that asked for new elementary schools, expansions to De Soto and Mill Valley, a new early childhood center and land acquisition. The November 2006 bond issue failed by 33 votes.
To address growth in a way that satisfied patrons, the board approved a $13,800 survey of 400 patrons that was completed earlier this year.
"Our survey mentioned that patrons more likely would pass a bond issue around a $60 million mark," Gracy said. "What are ways that we can reduce (the current proposal) to get to that number?"
Denis Johnson the best way to reduce the cost of the bond projects would be to reduce square footage.
"If you reduce the quality, it will come back and bite you," he said. "When you are looking at cutting $10 million you have to look at cutting square footage."
Randy Johnson said he thought the best way to cut square footage was to eliminate the proposed gym addition at De Soto High. That part of the De Soto High expansion is estimated to cost almost $8.2 million.
"I hate to say it, but to me that with 1,000 kids we are OK on a gym," Randy Johnson said, citing Mill Valley, which is near 1,000 students with only one gym.
However, De Soto High principal Dave Morford said Mill Valley has more nearby resources for sports practices.
"We don't have some of the same satellite facilities over there that this school has, and an alternate gymnasium would be used on a daily basis, it would be used on a classroom basis," he said.
Clark said he agreed with adding the gymnasium to De Soto High.
"I tried to get a reservation a year in advance and Jack (Deyoe, operations director,) won't let me to try to reserve a gym for next year," Clark said. "We just don't have the space. The high school is using everything. If we take (the gym) out, then we are taking it away from the community."
Thomas said although the projects cost more than what the Board of Education desired because of inflation, they still were needed.
"This is what the needs of the district are," he said. "Any cuts in this appear to be maybe near-term fixes but long-term disasters, and maybe that is what we need to move forward."
Superintended Sharon Zoellner reminded the board that although more patrons, 40 percent, favored a $60 million bond issue, there was about 30 percent support each for bond issues costing $80 million and $100 million.
"It wasn't clear cut," Zoellner said.
The Board of Education will further discuss its bond package at its next meeting, which will be at 6 p.m. June 2 at the District Administrative Building, 35200 W. 91st St., De Soto.