Archive for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

District officials say it’s time to act on bond

October 29, 2008

Voters in De Soto USD 232 go to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on the district’s third school bond issue in three years.

For School Board President Larry Meyer, the bond election marks a watershed for district patrons.

“We’re at a point where we need to really address the space needs at our high schools and elementary schools,” Meyer said. “This may — due to the economy — be a very difficult decision for some folks. But for the folks who view public education as being very important, this is the time to really act.”

Those backing the referendum hope this third time is a charm.

In November 2006, voters narrowly turned back a $105.7 million bond referendum proposal that would have built new elementary schools, expanded De Soto and Mill Valley high schools, constructed a new early-childhood center and purchased land for future schools.

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 to De Soto High, elementary additions and an early-childhood education center in its first question, and theaters and artificial turf in its second question.

This time around, the district is asking patrons to approve a bond package, not to exceed $75 million, that would increase capacity at Mill Valley and De Soto high schools and build a new 600-capacity elementary school at 58th and Belmont streets in western Shawnee to help alleviate overcrowding at Mize and Horizon elementary schools.

The cost, according to district officials, would be an additional $14.38 a month in 2011 to owners of a $200,000 home. The bonds would be paid off over a 20-year period.

Unlike past bond elections, there is no organized effort to defeat the proposal. However, there have been questions about the overall cost, including the addition of auxiliary gymnasiums at both high schools, and whether other alternatives have been fully studied.

To those who might be considering voting no, Miller said board members worked hard to come up with a package that was both palatable to voters and still would meet the needs of a growing district.

“This particular bond issue is a result of us presenting two others that didn’t pass,” Meyer said. “This has been narrowed down to address the specific needs of the district for the next few years.”

To bond supporters, the issue is all about handling the district’s explosive growth and space needs.

“Just consider our enrollment for the last three years – up by 1,133 students,” USD 232 Superintendent Sharon Zoellner wrote in a letter to the editor of The Explorer.

Earlier this year, district operations director Jack Deyoe projected the district would reach its combined high school capacity in the 2009-10 school year with 1,080 students at Mill Valley and 670 students at De Soto High. Mill Valley’s capacity is currently 1,000 and De Soto’s is 750.

This year, Mill Valley’s enrollment is 986 students, while De Soto reported enrollment of 611 students. The bond referendum proposes increasing Mill Valley’s capacity to 1,400 students and De Soto High School’s capacity to 1,000 students.

On tap for Mill Valley would be additions to the commons area and classrooms on the school’s east wing and near the fine arts area. De Soto High would get a new media center or library on the lower north side of the building. The current library space would be converted to house counseling services. Most classrooms would be added to the west side of the building, although there were some classroom additions proposed in the fine arts area.

The De Soto High expansion is proposed to cost $26.5 million. The Mill Valley expansion is proposed to cost $23.4 million.

Of those totals, more than $8 million is targeted for physical education improvements — including an auxiliary gymnasium — at each of the high schools.

Meyer said surveys of district patrons and patron committees looking at the district’s needs in the past both showed strong support for the additional gymnasium space at the schools.

There’s another component to consider regarding both the gymnasiums and the bond issue overall, Meyer said.

“We need to look at: Are we being competitive and being a progressive district? People have chosen to move to the De Soto school district because of the schools and quality education they’re getting.”

The cost of a third high school, officials say, would be well more than expansions to the existing schools.

As for the elementary school plans, proponents of the bond issue point to a statistic showing more than 2,500 children ages 4 and younger live in the district, which equates to a critical need for classroom space in the coming years.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education agreed to use existing funds in the district’s capital outlay budget for additions to Starside and Clear Creek elementaries. The new elementary school in Shawnee as proposed in the bond issue would help ease space concerns already in existence at Mize and Horizon elementaries.

“Whether the bond passes or not, the need is still there,” Meyer said. “The growth remains.”

Asked how long the bond package, if approved, would take care of growth issues, Meyer said, “I don’t have a crystal ball; three to five years, maybe, depending on what the economy does.”


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