Archive for Thursday, October 27, 2005

School officials optimistic about election

Basehor-Linwood patrons asked to approve $22.9 million in bonds to finance new school, building improvements

October 27, 2005

Encouraging ... optimistic ... hopeful.

Wednesday morning, just six days before patrons decide the fate of a proposed $22.9 million bond issue, these are the words Basehor-Linwood School District officials are using to describe their expectations for next week's vote.

"I think most people see the positive aspects of the plan," Superintendent Jill Hackett said. "It's a big commitment, but we're asking them to make an investment in their future and an investment in the community."

"The thing that is encouraging to me is we have both verbal and visual support from a variety of different community groups and locations, which I've not seen in any bond issue including 1997," said Don Swartz, director of business operations.

Eight years and two failed ballot questions separate the school district from the last successful bond issue. District officials believe that streak ends Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Polling places, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, are at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, Linwood Community Center and Holy Angels Church.

An approved bond issue would pay for:

¢ A new kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school, which will be built on 15 acres of vacant land west of Basehor-Linwood High School. The school will feature 25 classrooms. Total cost: $6,981,811.

¢ Renovations to the combination middle/elementary school facility in Linwood. The money would pay for 19 new classrooms, including a gymnasium and locker room, and improvements to the parking, drainage, and track and athletic fields. Total cost: $10,111,605.

¢ Additions at Basehor Elementary School, which would include adding four new rooms, minor remodeling, 25 additional parking spaces, sidewalks, kindergarten playground and the removal of modular units. Total cost: $799,740.

¢ Additions at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, including six new classrooms, minor remodeling, 88 additional parking spaces, sidewalks and kindergarten playground. Total cost: $1,589,895.

An approved bond issue would give the school district room for another 1,765 students, or double its existing capacity.

Hackett said her cautious optimism regarding Tuesday's vote is based on stories like one relayed to her from the bond issue campaign committee, a group of patron volunteers promoting the ballot question.

While going to door-door to speak with potential voters last week, a campaign volunteer had a brief conversation with a resident. The resident didn't want to hear any talk about the bond issue, though.

"He said he'd received that presentation three times already and that he was voting yes," Hackett said.

The story, she said, illustrates a broader point that the campaign committee and school district have been forthright in educating the public on the bond issue. More than 30 meetings took place between campaign volunteers and voters.

And, Hackett said, voters themselves made up the District Advisory Council, a group that was instrumental in working with school officials to research and craft an appropriate construction plan.

"People seem to really feel they've been communicated with for this project," Hackett said.

The superintendent also answered grumblings from some bond opponents this week that interest payments would increase the total cost of the bond issue to approximately $40 million over the next 20 years.

"Is there interest included? Yes, but that is included in the increase in taxes. I think it is fair to say there is no perfect plan."

"Cost efficiency was a major criteria of DAC. We believe this plan is practical and fiscally responsible for all."

John McArther, school district financial adviser, said the $40 million total is somewhat misleading. Over the next 20 years, interest payments would increase the total by $17,068,625. However, state contributions to the bond issue will account for nearly one-third of the principle cost and the interest.

Basically, he said, the liability for local residents -- including interest payments -- would be $28,362,210 over the next 20 years.

According to the school district, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $92 a year, or $7.67 per month, for an approved bond issue. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay $184 a year, or $15.33 per month.

Proponents have called this bond issue "a bargain" and support that notion by pointing out that, if approved, the funds would allow for more students and classrooms at $7 million less than the last bond issue proposed.

Ultimately, however, for Hackett the question of the bond issue's merit boils down to what all school matters should: finding ways to offer students a better education. She believes that the school district, which recently earned standards of excellence marks in 13 of 18 areas on state assessment tests, can improve on its student achievement with better, improved facilities.

Elementary schools are feeling the crunch of overcrowding and with area development on the rise, the district will continue to see an increasing number of new students.

Possible remedies, short of an approved bond issue, aren't favored by any district officials. Those remedies, which administrators deem as a short-term solution to a long-term problem, include raising the students per teacher ratio -- currently set at a school board approved 24 to 1 -- and adding modular classrooms.

"We absolutely think (an approved bond issue) will allow us to continue the success we've started," Hackett said.

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