Archive for Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Council defends discussions on possible street upgrades

January 26, 2011

City of Tonganoxie elected officials and staff defended the council Monday against an alleged perception it didn’t support USD 464’s $26.9 million bond issue.

A dozen supporters of the bond issue attended Monday’s council meeting with two, John Morgan and USD 464 PTA President Chris Niemeyer, addressing the council during open session.

Both men spoke regarding recent stories in The Mirror about council discussions on street improvements needed should district voters approve the April 5 bond referendum. Last week, it was reported the consensus of the council was the school district should be responsible for any street upgrades needed with the construction of a new elementary school on the district’s 80-acre campus now home to Tonganoxie Middle School.

In addressing the council, the two men made the case for the bond projects — particularly the 400-student intermediate elementary school — while saying there was a perception the council didn’t support the bond issue.

Morgan — with the pro-bond group Quality for Kids, School Bond 2011 — noted the council has had several recent meetings on economic development. He supported those efforts as he said most in the city did, but he said schools were important in attracting new businesses and their employees. Future employees at Tonganoxie businesses could opt to live in neighboring Basehor and Bonner Springs, which are opening new schools, instead of sending children to attend school in mobile units in Tonganoxie, he argued.

With district growth of 17 percent since 2004 and a large number of pre-school children set to enter kindergarten in coming years, the contrast between the districts’ facilities would get more grim without new classrooms, Morgan said.

Moreover, Morgan said the question of who should pay for off-site improvements was answered, citing Kansas Department of Education deputy commissioner Dale Dennis as saying the school district couldn’t legally pay for any off-site improvements, through a bond issue or otherwise, and could be found to have misused funds if it did.

The council has expressed concern about incurring more debt, but Niemeyer said it should consider the debt it owed students to have a quality and safe educational environment. That was not the case when children played “Frogger” through traffic when dropped off or picked up from school, had remedial and gym classes in hallways or went to school in a storage hut or mobile units, he said.

The squeeze forcing those conditions was the elementary school’s 92-square-feet per student, which compared to the 125-square-foot national average and 182-square-foot state average, Niemeyer said.

From the economic development standpoint, the council should support the school district as the city’s largest employer, Niemeyer said. But, he said the perception in the community because of the council’s position on the district paying for street improvements was that it didn’t support the bond issue. That perception could be detrimental to the bond issue’s success, he said.

In response, Mayor Jason Ward reminded the bond supporters he pledged to do all he could for the bond issue at a December joint meeting with the school board.

Ward added that there has been mixed information on the school district’s ability to pay for off-site improvements. In light of Morgan’s information, that question needed to be answered, he said.

Ward also objected to any perception that the council opposed the bond issue. He characterized the council’s discussions of the possible street improvements as information gathering and policy-driven rather than political. At no time during those talks had any council member opposed the school bond, he said.

The council’s concern, as it should be with a price tag for 14th and East street improvements placed as high as $4.5 million — which is more than the city’s remaining $3.5 million debt ceiling — was with taxpayers, Ward said. The taxpayers’ burden would be lessened if the district, with its larger tax base, helped pay for the streets that would benefit all in the district, he said.

Councilman Chris Donnelly, too, objected to any suggestion the council didn’t support the bond issue. He said taxpayers would ultimately decide the issue and the city would do what was needed should the bond pass.

The council would be wise to keep its discussion on an objective policy basis, City Attorney Mike Kelly said. The council needed to be very cautious taking a position on a political issue and was forbidden from supporting any referendum with funding, he said.

City Administrator Mike Yanez said communication between city staff and the district’s administration was open and ongoing, he said. The council was exploring options, a task that would continue with the completion in early February of a traffic study on the consequences of a new elementary school near the middle school, which will provide insight on when and what street upgrades were needed.

“There’s still a whole lot of talking to be done,” Yanez said.

Ward and Councilmen Donnelly and Bill Peak said they welcomed input from the bond supporters and encouraged further dialogue.

In particular, Donnelly noted the expressed support of Morgan and Niemeyer for higher city taxes to pay for any street improvements, the first pro or con stance he had heard on the issue.

“That’s two; you’re ahead 2-0 right now,” he said. “I think it’s positive you come up here saying, ‘I want you to raise taxes.’”

Comments

straightup 3 years, 2 months ago

What will this mean on our taxes? If this school bond passes what will WE be paying for on the school and the roads? How much more on our taxes are they going to be asking us to pay? I haven't seen this! No one seem to be talking about this. We are having a hard time now trying to afford the taxes that we do pay now! Are they trying to run everyone out of town? How much will this cost us on our TAXES?

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h5 3 years, 2 months ago

Have you read any newspapers in the past 6 months or looked on the school's website? This issue has been discussed at length. Nothing has been hidden. Information cannot be spoon fed to each individual, sometimes one must become informed on their own. You can find a link on the school's website as to how the bond issue will affect your taxes, and more importantly, how it will affect our children. I would hope that you realize this bond issue is about CHILDREN, not money. Children are our biggest investment in the future.

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only1 3 years, 2 months ago

Bingo h5! Thank you... Become informed and put the future of the community first. It's 2011, time to catch up Tonganoxie!

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straightup 3 years, 2 months ago

It is about money!!! There is a reason that our schools are called public schools and not private schools. There has to be a limit of how much money the PUBLIC has to spend for the schools. Parents with kids need to start paying for their kids education if they want bigger and better.

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only1 3 years, 2 months ago

Not sure I get your comment. You said it yourself. "There is a reason that our schools are called public schools and not private schools." You are part of the public right? You do benefit from local businesses and other aspects of our community, right? Let me get this straight? You want only people that currently have kids to pay for public education? You sound as if you are in it for yourself, which is not what most small towns in Kansas are about. When it comes to public education, we are all in it together so that our communities, state, and country continue to be great places to live. Sorry you are so sour on kids, but they are the most important commodity for the future of our nation. We don't get so bent out of shape about rising gas prices, cigarette or beer prices, or the price of food, but we throw a fit when we are asked to improve facilities and education opportunities for the children of our communities. Unbelievable. It would be understandable if the improvements were unneccessary, but TES is 25 years overdue for work and will not have room for future growth, TMS is not going to hold the future growth of Tonganoxie, and THS students are currently at a disadvantage in some core curriculum areas, especially science. The cost of a public education, along with resources and the necessity of more space, change just like any business in this ever changing world. I don't mean to get personal, but I don't get the lack of importance placed on the facilities that help shape and mold our youth.

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

only1 - let me start off by saying I have a child at TES.

That said, how is this new school supposed to help educate kids? This is 30 million dollars and I can't figure out how it helps one kid get even a little smarter. It might lower our utility bills, it might cut our repair costs, it might even consolidate our district and make dropping off kids and such easier. It would be a nice new building and would be something to be proud of. But for the life of me I can't figure out how it will make any of our kids smarter.

I for one would like to sit down and be honest about this. Retaining good teachers helps our kids education. Better courseware and classroom materials helps our kids education. But building all these new buildings and selling them as "for the children" is just dishonest. It's for the parents and the administrators and the town, not the children. I learned just fine in that old building on Shawnee St, and my kid can too.

As far as having room for more people in the district - how many houses have been built in town in the last few years? Maybe we should wait and see about that extra growth before committing this kind of money to it. Let the new people to town help pay for it too.

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

only1 - let me start off by saying I have a child at TES.

That said, how is this new school supposed to help educate kids? This is 30 million dollars and I can't figure out how it helps one kid get even a little smarter. It might lower our utility bills, it might cut our repair costs, it might even consolidate our district and make dropping off kids and such easier. It would be a nice new building and would be something to be proud of. But for the life of me I can't figure out how it will make any of our kids smarter.

I for one would like to sit down and be honest about this. Retaining good teachers helps our kids education. Better courseware and classroom materials helps our kids education. But building all these new buildings and selling them as "for the children" is just dishonest. It's for the parents and the administrators and the town, not the children. I learned just fine in that old building on Shawnee St, and my kid can too.

As far as having room for more people in the district - how many houses have been built in town in the last few years? Maybe we should wait and see about that extra growth before committing this kind of money to it. Let the new people to town help pay for it too.

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only1 3 years, 2 months ago

12345... Pardon me if I offend, but that's that attitude that's killing this town. "I learned in that old school on Shawnee street so my kid can too". Their is a lack of vision in this community. I like the people, but why do you think people are flocking to other communities on the outskirts of KC and not to Tongie? Because it is not a progressive community. All I hear is people griping about how poor the community is and we're losing businesses. What are we doing about it besides griping? Quit living in 1980 and do something to improve the quality of life for you and your kids. Small towns rally around their schools and kids will take pride in their school and acivities if they feel there is reason to. Your view on this whole thing is perplexing to me. Maybe new facilities won't make every kid smarter, but will allow more opportunities for kids to explore interests which stimulates learning believe it or not. If I were a family looking for a new community, I'm looking at schools first, economic growth, and housing. The first two eliminate Tongie compared to surrounding towns our size, but hey, whatever. It will soon be 2025 and our kids will be saying, "I learned in that old building and my kids can too". Awesome!

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

I agree with you about the importance of education. The thing is that I don't believe the building that they are being educated in makes that much of a difference. I believe teachers make a difference, and I believe that courseware makes a difference. Notice in the last paper there was an article about spending cuts to the schools budget on the same page as this bond issue. So we are cutting necessary expenses to spend money on a new building. Now if we were having a bond issue to fund teachers salary or new books I would have a different opinion, but as it is it seems the school district can't find ways to spend money fast enough.

I think part of the reason businesses are relocating is the oppressive sales taxes and property taxes. This will only make those worse. Other towns around the city are doing better because of the proximity to jobs. Surely there's other reasons businesses are struggling too, businesses everywhere are struggling. This town is working hard to attract jobs, but it's still not enough. The city has along reputation of not being business friendly - just look at the cement plant that was being planned at Laming Road and Tonganoxie Road. The people in the city and planning department has been anti-business for years. That was a huge deal that had the town up in arms for a long time.

All of these projects are possible if we grow our tax base, but it all starts with more businesses. More businesses means more rooftops, which means even more tax base to support new schools and such. Trying to cram this through before then just puts more of a burden on folks who are already paying for one extra bond issue as it is. It's time for the school to start living within it's means just like we have to.

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h5 3 years, 2 months ago

"12345" ... there is ample research that informs us that the educational environment impacts learning. Space, natural daylight, air quality all make a difference in our physical and emotional health. Trailers and quansit huts at TES and old remodeled churches at THS should not be just accepted by this community. I am looking forward to the response from those who don't support this bond election when we spend thousands of dollars on expanding our trailer park at TES. That will certainly be a bragging point for our stagnant community with low-performing schools and students who are unprepared for the 21st century world of work that exists outside of Tonganoxie, KS.

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

Let me ask this - if the problem is the trailers and quanset hut - why not make a small addition to the existing school and do away with those? I'd imagine that could be done for 10% of the current proposal. I'll also add that the environment at the existing grade school is very nice. It has nice big windows in all the classrooms in the older part of the building and lets lots of sunlight in for the kids. All the newer building have tiny windows in the corner - you can barely see outside!

I'd also like to know why this school has to cost over $1000/square foot when other types of construction are done much cheaper. Houses are being built in town for under $100/sq ft.

I still say that this is just a way to spend more money and say it's "for the kids." What's more - when they are done with this they will have another bond issue for yet another school, and it will be sold as "for the kids" too.

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h5 3 years, 2 months ago

So much to say about the anti-tax statements but here are just a few comments. Tonganoxie USD 464 hasby far the lowest tax rate in Leavenworth, Wyandotte, and Douglas. The bond issue will cost the average tax payer in this community $12/month. This is equivalent to a large pizza at Casey's and just a little more than two foot-long sandwiches at Subway. Right now, it is the cost of a 1/4 tank of gas for your car. Bottom-line ... it isn't much, especially when you consider what is for. The school proposal has been put on the back burner for a year and a half despite the desperate needs of overcrowded schools where over 100 nine year olds attend class in mobile units and an old maintenance quansit hut. Let's face it, the time will never be right when we are talking about tax increases. This is about kids, not money. The plan addresses needs, not wants ... it is responsible and reasonable ... it will never be more affordable than it is right now. I'm sorry, but those who are against progress and quality should perhaps move to a community with no children and dirt roads. The city has chosen to invest in other things over the last few years. Despite community growth, schools have obviously not been a priority. A little city leadership would be nice right now!

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h5 3 years, 2 months ago

12345 commented ... I believe teachers make a difference, and I believe that courseware makes a difference. Notice in the last paper there was an article about spending cuts to the schools budget on the same page as this bond issue. So we are cutting necessary expenses to spend money on a new building. Now if we were having a bond issue to fund teachers salary or new books I would have a different opinion, but as it is it seems the school district can't find ways to spend money fast enough.

True ... the #1 difference in the education of a child is the teacher. False ... the funding that is being cut to education is state general funding for classrooms and teachers. The district has absolutely no control over this. If you want someone to blame look at the conservative legislature. This district has cut over $1 million the last two years and will be cutting another 1/2 million if the governors proposal goes through.
Bond funds along with the capital outlay budget are strictly for building projects and equipment. Salaries and instructional supplies cannot be paid with this money. Bottom line ... you can't use this argument!

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

h5, you're making my case for me. Taxes are going to have to go up just to maintain current services at the school. I realize the district has no control over what they get from the state, but they should realize that raising taxes and putting this bond issue all at the same time is going to pinch families even more.

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only1 3 years, 2 months ago

This community can support 3 liquor stores, 3 gas stations, and two pizza places, but not a few extra dollars to get our schools up to par with communities around us? There is no excuses for that. Plenty being thrown around, but the bottom line to me is stubborness and lack of vision. Never convince me otherwise. You have your opinion, but plenty of us have opposing views and I, for one, will be voting yes for this bond issue.

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momtongie 3 years, 2 months ago

12345, you said, "The thing is that I don't believe the building that they are being educated in makes that much of a difference. I believe teachers make a difference, and I believe that courseware makes a difference."

Of course a building makes a difference when it's over-crowded! Try putting 30 kids in a classroom and see how well they learn, no matter how great the teacher is! It's not about getting a shiny new building, it's about providing adequate space for our kids to get a quality education. I have children in Tongie schools and I have seen how crowded it is. Our children should not have to be crammed into classrooms, trailers, or quonset huts. You also suggested adding on to the current elementary. Research shows that the bigger schools get, the lesser the quality of education, no matter how great the teachers are.

Of course it costs more to build a school than a house. That said, the cost of construction is at an all time low, so building another school now makes so much sense. Yes, the State of Kansas is reducing school funding, but they are keeping the funding available for school bonds, which means if Tongie passes a bond now, they will get millions of the building paid for by the State of Kansas! That bond money can be taken out of the budget next year, so if the bond is not passed now, that could be millions in free money GONE.

Leavenworth County and the Tongie school district have lower tax rates than other area counties & school districts. No one wants to pay more taxes, but I totally support paying what amounts to the price of a pizza per month for OUR kids!!! By the way, this would only affect property tax and has NOTHING to do with sales tax.

I'm voting YES!!!!

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

If this weren't about getting a shiny new building why is it replacing the existing building? Why not put an addition onto what's there or an addition at the middle school to help with crowding?

By the way - show me a single grade school classroom that has 30 kids in it. I'm not buying it...

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only1 3 years, 2 months ago

You're not buying it because you refuse to look at the facts! I don't know about the elementary school, but there are classes at the high school that have 30 kids. As far as the elementary, why would you add on to a building that is outdated in so many ways. Have you been in the restrooms in that building? Do you know that some kids are complaining of headaches from something in that building? I get it. You will not be convinced no matter what because you think this community is so broke. Well, I don't buy that. That's another way of saying that other things have a higher priority than updating our education facilities. Meanwhile, maybe we could build another liquor store or pizza place in town. That will certainly benefit our children. I have three kids going to school in this district and would like for them to have a better educational experience than I had. It's possible for that to happen, but the attitude that "I learned there, so can they" is just perplexing to me. What if our teachers still taught the same way as our teachers did? I learned that way, so can they. My point is that times change and if we don't change with them, we get left behind and that is exactly what is happening in Tonganoxie, and I'm not just talking about education alone. I hope that eventually the young blood in this community steps up to the plate and goes head to head with the outdated attitude of 1980.

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12345 3 years, 2 months ago

How is this new building going to help classroom size in the high school? Based on everything I've seen there will still be 30 kids in classes in the high school after construction.

I have been in the bathrooms in the grade school - what's wrong with them?

As far as headaches - really? The building has been in use for many decades - if kids are getting headaches it's not from the building. Besides, according to another poster the building will still be in use. If that's the case though I can't figure out what they are going to do with the rest of the space at the existing grade school. They have to have at least 30 classrooms there.

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momtongie 3 years, 2 months ago

12345, they are NOT replacing the current elementary. They will continue to use it for PreK through 1st grade. 2nd -5th grades will be in the new building, and 6-8 will be in the current middle school. My child has 25 students in class in the elementary. The district has been growing by at least 3% each year. How long do you think it will take to get to 30 students in each class? They already have 4 classrooms in trailers and in the quonset hut. That's about 100 students who can't be inside the school building because it's already crowded.

A quote from the movie, "Field of Dreams" says, "If you build it, they will come." Well, 12345, the students are already here and still coming.

As I said earlier, research show that the bigger schools get, the lesser the quality of education, no matter how great the teachers are. So we could keep adding on to our buildings and decreasing the quality of education our children are receiving. Although I'm not sure where we'd add on at the current elementary school. I guess we could get rid of the playground.

Still voting YES!!!

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