Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Opponents speak out against school bond issue

October 20, 2004

School bond elections pose a ticklish situation.

Karen Kellogg knows it's not popular to take a public stand against new school construction.

Although she's in favor of helping children obtain a good education, Kellogg's also a proponent of holding the line on taxes.

And, she plans to vote "No" on Nov. 2.

That's when voters who live in the Tonganoxie school district will decide whether to approve a $25.3 million bond issue for school construction.

If voters approve the bond issue, the district will:

  • Build a new middle school for fifth- through eighth-graders on the district's 80 acres near Pleasant and Washington streets.
  • Remodel and add to the existing grade school to convert it to a school for kindergartners through fourth-graders.
  • Remodel and revamp the high school and junior high into a high school campus for freshmen through seniors.

Kellogg and her husband, Larry, have lived west of Tonganoxie for 24 years. Karen has been paying close attention to information about the school bond issue, and her concern is it's going to add too much of a tax burden to district residents.

"I think when you're talking about such a vast amount of money in a community that, although it's very good-hearted and very hard-working," Kellogg said. "This is just not a wealthy community, and $25.3 million is huge."

Kellogg said work at each Tonganoxie school should be done one building at a time.

"My feeling is that that really all they've given us is an all-or-nothing option, and that's just not the way it is," she said.

Kellogg noted the state would pay about 30 percent of the bond issue. That doesn't convince her.

"When I'm going to the store I know that if I purchase a product by the ounce I'm going to pay more than if I buy the things in bulk," Kellogg said.

But, she explained, if she couldn't afford the cost of the bulk purchase, she'd settle for the smaller purchase, rather than go in debt.

"I don't see that as a bad thing," Kellogg said.

As a voter in the school district, Kellogg said the school board should be promoting one part of the building project, not all three.

And, Kellogg said the district's comparison of Basehor-Linwood's lowering mill levy -- from 14 mills to six mills -- in the years since that school district approved a bond issue, doesn't tell the whole story.

"What's happened to the value of my house is it's increased by 50 percent over the last six years," said Kellogg, who works as a firefighter in Overland Park. "And it looks to me like that mill levy would have come down to 9 percent just because of the increased valuation. I'm not so sure that the whole decrease in the mill levy can be attributed simply to growth."

Hold back on taxes

Property taxes are a sore subject.

"The taxes that we pay on our house have gone up over 130 percent in the last six years," Kellogg said. "We're paying well over twice what we were paying six years ago in taxes -- on the same house."

Numerous families will be affected, by another tax hit, said Kellogg, who has no children.

"I think a lot of people will find themselves in that $100,000 to $200,000 range," Kellogg said. "Not because they paid that much for their house, but simply because of the way the valuations have skyrocketed over the last six years."

Kellogg said she understands why voters might hesitate to speak out against the school bond issue.

"I personally feel like I look like a bad person, a bad citizen, for not being in favor of this, " Kellogg said. "But on the other hand we have an obligation to keep our own households solvent -- just how far can you stretch an already-strained budget?"

Another outlook

Tanna Innis plans to vote against the bond issue, as well.

Innis would prefer to see the district build a new school for K-6 on the district's 80 acres, and use the existing grade school, as well.

"They could remodel it and put some of the kids that are right here in town within walking distance," Innis said. "Heck, Tongie's growing so much that some of these kids have to walk so far."

Scale it down

Wilbur Henson doesn't mince words when talking about the school's proposed bond issue.

"I think it sucks," said the retired Henson.

The construction plan costs too much money and includes things the district doesn't need, Henson said.

"I'm for a school bond, yes," Henson said. "But not this one. ... I think a $10 million bond issue would be great."

The $10 million would cover the cost of a new 5-8 middle school. That would fix the district's crowding, and would be easier on the taxpayers, Henson said.

"They're going to build a new school, about a $9 million deal which may be fine, but all this other stuff, I don't see it's solving a problem at all."

Henson said the construction plans call for unnecessary changes at the high school.

"Why fancy up a high school? And, I just don't think it's the right plan for the kids or anything else," Henson said.

And, Henson said he hopes the public isn't misled by projections of what the bond issue would cost taxpayers. Henson said yearly estimates are more realistic than saying it will cost so much per month.

"When you pay in one lump sum, that's a lot of difference instead of monthly," Henson said.

If the bond issue passes, Henson's thinking about moving out of the school district.

"For a good plan, yes I'd go for it in a heartbeat, but not this one," Henson said. "I just hope there's a whole lot of other people that think the same way."

Too much land

Roger Shilling, who owns Shilling Electric in downtown Tonganoxie, thinks if a new grade school is built, it should be on the high school/junior high campus.

"They've got about 75 acres right there -- 75 acres is enough to do what they need to do for expansion," Shilling said. "I think they've got plenty of space if they want to develop what space they've got."

And as to what to do with the district's vacant 80 acres southeast of the intersection of Pleasant and Washington, Shilling has a suggestion: Sell the land and use the money to build a new grade school.

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