Archive for Thursday, February 2, 2006

School district eyes November bond issue vote

Package nearly $4 million more than plan that failed 3 months ago

February 2, 2006

Last November, proponents of new school construction in Basehor-Linwood were deflated by a narrow defeat of a $22.9 million bond issue.

This November may be a different story.

Basehor-Linwood school board members and administrators agreed this week to recommend to the district's advisory committee that another bond election be set for November 2006.

The plan favored by school officials: a $26.7 million package that would finance a new elementary school and renovations to every school in the district, except for Basehor-Linwood High School. In all aspects except price, it is the same plan rejected three months ago by 81 votes.

The higher price, an estimate formed by the school district's architectural firm and confirmed by other competing firms, is the result of inflation and adjustments for construction materials.

"The bond issue we had last time was, and is, the best plan," school board member Randy Cunningham said. "Other scenarios just don't hold a candle."

Whether the district pushes forward with another bond issue hinges, in part, on feedback from members of the District Advisory Council, a group that had a heavy hand in crafting the failed November 2005 question.

School officials and DAC members are scheduled to discuss the bond issue during a meeting next week. The meeting is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9 at Basehor Elementary School.

"The original proposal still appears to be the best plan, the most logical plan, to present to the community," school Superintendent Jill Hackett said. "We believe it's the right direction to go."

During a work session Tuesday, Hackett described the district's need for more space as "critical" and laid out these steps that officials could take to acquire more classrooms:

¢ Increase class sizes. The district operates under a ratio of 24 students per teacher for third grades and younger and 28 students per teacher for the fourth grades and older.

¢ Move music and art classes out of their rooms and onto carts. This step would free up a room, or two, at each of the three elementary schools.

¢ Move seventh and eighth grades to the high school.

School officials noted that none of the possible steps is deemed "developmentally appropriate" and none is favored by the district.

"No, I don't think those are in the best interest of students ... but our hands very well may be tied," Hackett said.

As they discussed overcrowding and new student growth on Tuesday, school board members kicked around ideas that ranged from out-of-the-box to out-and-out radical. In the end, none of the ideas gained traction.

School board member Douglas Bittel expressed some doubt about the success of a bond issue. There is some evidence to support his claim: school district voters have approved just one bond issue in the last 15 years.

"We apparently can't convince the people in this district what is best for kids," Bittel said.

Cunningham countered the notion. He said the odds against an approved question in Basehor-Linwood may be long, but not impossible.

"We've done it before," said Cunningham, noting the successful 1997 bond issue. "Maybe not frequently, but we did it."

During a segment Tuesday on possible campaign strategies, board member Patrick Jeannin said laying the groundwork for a successful bond issue is like a checkerboard.

"We're moving around pieces, trying to get 51 percent on our side," he said.

Should the DAC favor the school district's recommendation, the school board would discuss the bond issue once more at its Feb. 13 meeting and schedule a formal vote for March on whether to move forward with the election.

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