Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2004

District’s public conversation fosues on school needs

April 8, 2004

About 50 area residents attended Monday night's community forum to learn about the school's proposed $25.6 million construction plan.

The plan includes constructing a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres, transforming the existing grade school into a K-4 facility, and changing the present junior high/high school campus into a 9-12 high school.

The estimated construction costs break down to about $14.1 million for the 5-8 middle school, $1.5 million for the grade school and close to $10 million at the high school campus.

This was the third in a series of three public forums held to inform the community about the district's plans and to answer questions. The attendance was about twice that of the other forums.

Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson told the group the school construction would benefit the community.

"This is an investment for all of us -- $25 million is a lot of money. It will raise our taxes," Erickson said. "The decision we all have to make is are our kids worth it, and I think they are."

Erickson said an improved school would not only be functional it also would help increase land values and it would entice prospective residents to choose Tonganoxie.

"We're in competition with the Eudoras, we're in competition with the De Sotos and the Basehors for new people coming in," Erickson said.

Speakers included Tammie George, assistant principal of Tonganoxie, who talked about how the new school setup would enhance curriculum alignment.

THS Principal Mike Bogart told the group that the consolidated high school campus would be a boon to the community.

"We would have a very large campus, we would double the number of classrooms, we would double the number of gymnasiums," Bogart said.

And, he added, the new school, which from the front would look like a new building, would give the district more curb appeal.

"It could be a very important symbol of what this community believes in," Bogart said.

Among the largest

Jim French, architect with the DLR Group, reiterated the fact that the grade school, with an enrollment of more than 800 students, is one of the largest in the state.

"At a time when you hear most parents saying we'd like to have smaller schools, you're going in the opposite direction," French said.

It's likely, French said, that the proposed plans would allow for 10 to 15 years of growth.

"However, if a new industry lands in your backyard, all bets are off," French added.

TES Principal Jerry Daskoski said it's important to keep the class sizes small. He offered insight as to why lower student-teacher ratios are preferred.

For instance, he said, when he was in school, it was common to have 30 students in a classroom. If a child had a discipline problem in school, the parents were notified and it usually didn't happen again.

"If one thing has changed in education over the last 30 years, it has been the erosion of respect that young people have for authority," Daskoski said. "I'm not saying that all young people are rebellious, but the fewer there are the easier it is for teachers to handle the students and meet the needs of the students."

State would chip in

Bond consultant Roger Edgar said this is a good time to go for a bond issue.

Interest rates are lower than they've been in 30 to 40 years, Edgar said. And, at this time, the state of Kansas still pays 30 percent of the bond payments for school construction. In Tonganoxie, that would amount to about $8 million from the state, Edgar said.

In addition, the state would pay the Tonganoxie school district about $400,000 in each of the first two years after the new middle school is opened.

If the school district obtained a 25-year note for the bond issue, the taxes on a $100,000 home would increase by about $226 a year.

"That would cover the outstanding existing bonds for the balance of their lives, plus the new bonds," Edgar said. "That's $19 a month -- the price of pizza and a movie for you and your spouse."

After answering questions from those present, Erickson told the group the board members will discuss the plan at next Monday's board meeting and it's possible the board will vote on a plan at the May 10 board meeting.

"I really believe that this project will be sold to our public behind the scenes," Erickson said. "We've got a lot of work to get out and talk to people and develop our potential yes voter list. ... We really believe that this plan stretches our education dollar a long way."

Erickson said he realizes that $25 million is a lot of money.

"But we are meeting the needs of K-12," Erickson said. "... This plan, we feel, addressed our needs for the next 10-plus years."

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