Archive for Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Space solver

HTK Architects' current renderings of the new Tonganoxie Intermediate School on the district's 80 acres, which is the same land where Tonganoxie Middle School was constructed following a successful 2004 bond issue.

HTK Architects' current renderings of the new Tonganoxie Intermediate School on the district's 80 acres, which is the same land where Tonganoxie Middle School was constructed following a successful 2004 bond issue.

March 2, 2011

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of Mirror stories looking at USD 464’s proposed $26.9 million bond issue)

The numbers Tonganoxie Elementary School reported to the Kansas Department of Education on Sept. 20 appeared to give the school temporary respite from a growth trend that has it filled beyond its walls.

The school had an enrollment of 669 students on the September date the state uses to determine state aid to local districts. Principal Tammie George said the number seemed to reverse a trend that has seen the school’s enrollment increase 17 percent since the 2006-2007 school year, the year the district’s new middle school opened.

“But since Sept. 20 we’ve added 20 more students,” she said. “We’re back to a 2 percent increase.”

A new $16.9 million elementaryintermediate school is the crown jewel of projects in USD 464’s $26.9 million package to be before voters in the April 5 spring election. The new school would be built on the district’s 80-acre south campus and open in August 2014.

With its construction, the current elementary school would be remodeled to serve as a home for the district’s pre-school program, kindergartners and first-graders.

The breathing room the new middle school afforded at the downtown school in August 2006 — when TES fifth- and sixth-graders joined seventh- and eighth-graders from the former junior high that’s now part of the high school campus — didn’t last long. The elementary school started outgrowing its walls the next year.

“That (2006-2007) was the only year it was doable in this building,” George said. “That was the only year it was doable when we weren’t using outside buildings.”

The school has two third-grade classes and a music class in two modular units and a second-grade class and a third-grade class in the Quonset hut.

The age and location of the school have created a number of challenges involving such things safety and security, parking and utility maintenance. But the real problem is just finding space for the added students.

The elementary school complex provides 92 square feet for each student. That compares to the national average of 125 square feet per student and the Midwest average of 140 square feet.

Hallways designed for an enrollment capacity of 500 are too narrow during peak times, forcing some classes to stand against a wall to let the hall clear, George said. Inadequate lunchroom space has the school scheduling lunches from 10:40 a.m. until 12:25 p.m.

“If we want to have an all-school assembly, we don’t have the space under fire marshal regulations,” George said.

The space limitations haven’t affected class sizes yet, which average the 23-students-per-class level research suggests should be maximum, USD 464 Superintendent Kyle Hayden said. At the current growth rate, average class sizes are expected to grow one student per year unless the district purchases more mobile classrooms at the expense of playground space, he said.

With the opening of the new school and its 40 classrooms, class sizes can be reduced to the target average again, although state budget considerations would play a part in that decision, Hayden said.

“Of K through five, 22 to 23 is our target (class size),” he said. “We do feel the data is out there showing the larger the classroom the more negative impact it has on students. I think there is a threshold there.”

The new intermediate school and the remodeled current school would open in 2014 at 80 percent capacity, Hayden said.

Classrooms at the new school would have 900 square feet, Hayden said. Because of its hodge-podge nature, the physical size of classrooms at the current elementary school vary, with only the newest wing affording 900 square feet, Hayden said. The smallest classrooms are those in the modular units, which are only 750 square feet, and Quonset huts, he said.

Linda Vernon, a 16-year veteran at the school, has taught third-grade classes in the Quonset hut for three years.

There’s no sink in the room as there are in those in the main building, and she had to cobble together bookshelves for the classroom library, Vernon said. And with no facilities in the Quonset, students need to cross to the main building to use the restroom, a need that creates an added classroom disruption when the designated student “keeper of the key” locks and unlocks the front door for the student.

And there are the limitations of the small classroom, Vernon said. Setting up special project areas is difficult, as is breaking up into smaller groups.

The later is a problem throughout the school, George said.

“When we want to do more small group lessons, many times teachers have to set up learning centers and break into small groups around the room,” she said. “With the small quarters, you can’t spread out. Students in one group can hear what is going on in another group. It makes it difficult.”

Vernon is excited the problem would be addressed with the new school. She also likes the set-aside activity rooms in the class wing and the flex rooms Hayden said would be used for technology and science labs.

“I thought it would be wonderful to have all that space,” Vernon said. “You could keep existing projects up for more than a day and set up a science lab — things we can’t do now.”

Available space forces other compromises at the elementary school. On cold or rainy days, physical education teacher Diane Titterington is forced to have her kindergarten classes in the foyer of the school’s north gym.

“The biggest challenge is space, moving safely in that confined area and still getting their energy expended” she said. “You can’t really set up equipment in that small space, and you have be able to have it open for fire drills.”

Hallways also serve as the home of some remedial classes. And with no room to offer the state-mandated pre-school at-risk classes, the district is forced to bus the students to Linwood.

George praised the school’s staff for working through the challenges to provide an education she said still attracts young families to Tonganoxie. But she said the bottom line is the district has outgrown the downtown school.

“This building is not designed for this many people,” she said.

Comments

JerryB 3 years, 7 months ago

Sometime last year or the year before, we were all notified the district would stop mailing their monthly (or bi-monthly, I believe it was) newsletter. The move was explained as a reasonable cost-cutting measure and that the newsletters would now be found on the school website. Sounded like a smart move, particularly in times of tight budgets.

Now, when the district budget couldn't get any tighter, they've apparently decided to print and send paper newsletters again -- at taxpayer expense. The reason to switch back to the paper mailers seems overly transparent: it is an overt attempt to garner support for the bond election. Pretty weak move, in my opinion, in using taxpayer money to try to garner more support for the election.

If you want the community to have faith in your budgeting abilities--regarding buildings, staffing, or otherwise--then cut the fat rather than growing more.

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hricane23 3 years, 7 months ago

It seems to me that you may be looking for reasons to be against this idea, as opposed to being open minded and looking for the facts of why it is needed. I don't like the idea of spending more money, either, but I know firsthand of the needs, especially in regards to the Special Education programs. If you consider something like a couple of published newsletters as reason enough to not support this, well, I daresay your priorities are misguided. Personally, a couple of extra newsletters explaining the bond issue hardly seems nefarious to me. It seems more like a way to get valuable information out to a large group of people. Additionally, while I can't say for sure how the newsletters are paid for, I can say that NO TAXPAYER MONEY has been spent for fliers, the information booths at various school events, signs, or anything else. ALL of that has been paid for by donations from individuals and businesses in support of our students!

And keep in mind, the budget process that has cut millions of dollars of expenses is in no way related to this bond issue, or building a new school, or improving the existing facilities, or anything else. These are two separate issues. No teachers or services have been cut in order to find money to build a new school. Furthermore, failing to pass the bond WILL NOT mean more money to the District for those things that have been cut!

This is a unique opportunity to address the HUGE needs of our current and future students.
Did you know that the State will contribute AT LEAST 25% of construction costs? Do you think the State will have that money available in the next couple of years? Did you know that construction costs are down, meaning this project will be cheaper now than it would be in 3 years? Did you know that the State currently provides aid of approx. $1.125million per year for two years for equipment, supplies, and wages for new staff? All of those things are already in the State's budget for projects approved NOW, not for projects approved in a couple years when the economy turns around.

Yes, times are tough. But there are too many reasons why this is the RIGHT THING TO DO RIGHT NOW! I urge you to get the facts about the needs and how it's paid for, and stop trying to find unrelated reasons to be against it.

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only1 3 years, 7 months ago

Facts? C'mon... How dare you come on here with facts (sarcasm)... There are some people that just flat out are "no" votes no matter what you say or do. These will be the same people that will gripe when the state aid isn't there in 2 or 3 years. I think most of the people who are behind this are aware of this. I'm sure this is why they are trying to "reach" out to educate more people and perhaps sway someone who is "on the fence".

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JerryB 3 years, 7 months ago

"State aid". What a wonderfully-sounding term implying millions in free money for us and our students! But where does that "state aid" come from? Oh, that's right - from us - the taxpayers of the state of Kansas. The argument about how the state will pitch in does little to help your cause given that it is all taxpayer money in times of tight budgets.

I too know first hand about the situation this district faces, including the obscene wasteful practices of the administration of our various buildings. Until I see evidence of belt-tightening in that arena, I will not support the district getting discretion over how to spend more of my hard-earned money.

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hricane23 3 years, 7 months ago

The cost of this isn't your biggest beef, is it JerryB?

I don't think anyone would suggest the State's aid is free. But the cold hard truth is that you're going to pay those taxes anyway, whether you like it or not. Why not keep some of it in Tongie? Why not use the State's funds provided by other communities to help support our students and growth? The money's been allocated by the State... someone's going to use it. Any reasonable individual would agree that we should get "our piece of the pie", right?

But there's something else that bugs you. You started in on a couple of extra newsletters being published, and now you've jumped to "obscene wasteful practices of the administration of our various buildings." It sounds to me like you might be harboring a bit of a grudge. Since the current Administration hasn't been around long enough to deserve your ire this much, I assume your problems are with the old regime, and perhaps with the last bond issue. I won't debate what happened more than 5 years ago.

But holding a grudge won't ease the overcrowding issues that are only going to get worse. Holding a grudge won't bring our Special Needs students back within the District. Holding a grudge won't address safety issues. Holding a grudge won't help the community grow in this time of need.

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Old_Vet 3 years, 7 months ago

JerryB writes: "obscene wasteful practices of the administration of our various buildings" Really JerryB? So you have reported these wasteful abuses to the Board of Education? The Superintendent? The Leavenworth county attorney? I draw two conclusions from your post. First, you are lying and don't have an example. Second, if you provide an example you are negligent in your duties as a citizen to report it. Don't know which is worse? Both are despicable.

Which is it JerryB? Hope you have examples.

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getagrip 3 years, 7 months ago

Careful there Old_Vet. While I don't agree with JerryB using this particular section to bring up some of the topics brought up, I can say there have been things that been allowed to go on and nothing done, regardless of which regime. At the last two board meetings, parents have come forward with an issue that has been swept under the carpet again under the current regime, it also was allowed to go on and get swept under the carpet in the old regime. Apparently, it does no good to report it to the board of education. Nothing is done. When I have attended board meetings, I believe that board members receive reports that tell what happens at the building levels (isn't that what they vote on to accept?), including spending habits. You can't tell me that they can't see what is happening. Again, I see nothing that can prove to me that something is being done. So, Old_Vet, where are your examples that things are happening to make change?

Unfortunatley, JerryB, we will just have to contend with the fact that the good ol boy system is still alive and well. Nothing will ever change that, its just the players that change from regime to regime.

As for the topic for which we are posting our differences, I no longer have students who attend these schools, however, I do appreciate the need and will vote yes. I do have one recommendation when it comes to the fat trimming, lets start at the HS!

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gotongie 3 years, 7 months ago

It's funny how people always assume that the board, administration, or other people in charge are always doing something shady, corrupt, or dishonest. I moved here from out of district and was a former school board member. Usually, when things were "swept under the rug", it was because they were not brought through the proper channels. We used to have groups that would show up to a meeting, demand to be heard, and usually want someone fired. Did you do something similar? Scratch that. I don't even want to know. Try discussing this on another blog--we are discussing making improvements to schools here, not tearing people down.

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only1 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, they did do that. Exactly that.

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only1 3 years, 7 months ago

Just because you perceive there to be a problem doesn't mean there is a problem. If it's the "problem" I think you are referring to, you are in the miniority and the only people that seem to think there is a "problem" are people who have a personal agenda.

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JerryB 3 years, 7 months ago

I guess we'll see after the election which camp is really the minority.

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gotongie 3 years, 7 months ago

And we can all celebrate keeping the trailers! And 700 HUNDRED KIDS in one school! What a victory! I will be so proud when the bond is voted down! But hey, we will save ten bucks a month!!! Congratulations!

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Old_Vet 3 years, 7 months ago

Getagrip writes: "So, Old_Vet, where are your examples that things are happening to make change?"

Really? You haven't seen cuts in the district budget over the past few years, I believe they total over two million, I could be wrong but I am sure it was over one million.

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getagrip 3 years, 7 months ago

I have noticed the cuts, appreciate them, that's why I'm voting yes. You merely brought to light with JerryB steps folks should follow when they have a complaint. I merely pointed out that it appears when people follow these steps, nothing is done. I'm cool with it!

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only1 3 years, 7 months ago

Getagrip: I know exactly what you are talking about and just because you have a complaint doesn't mean anything needs to be done. Complain all you want. Whether or not protocol was followed isn't even the issue. The bottom line is the issues you are talking about were not factual. Fabricated by a few who want someone fired and untruths being slung. When using untruths to go after someone's job, that is illegal.

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