Archive for Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs of opposition

Opposition group joins school bond discussion

From left, Dale Woodyard, Gretchen Busche and Lester Meinert hold a sign expressing their opposition to USD 464’s bond issue. Among the group’s planned activities is an informational meeting 3 p.m. Saturday at Tonganoxie VFW Post 9271. USD 464 Superntendent Kyle Hayden has been invited to give the district’s informational presentation on the $26.9 million bond proposal at the meeting.

From left, Dale Woodyard, Gretchen Busche and Lester Meinert hold a sign expressing their opposition to USD 464’s bond issue. Among the group’s planned activities is an informational meeting 3 p.m. Saturday at Tonganoxie VFW Post 9271. USD 464 Superntendent Kyle Hayden has been invited to give the district’s informational presentation on the $26.9 million bond proposal at the meeting.

March 23, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of Mirror stories examining aspects of USD 464’s $26.9 million bond issue.

Despite joining a group working to defeat Tonganoxie USD 464’s proposed $26.9 million bond issue, Gretchen Busche agrees a new school is needed.

“I couldn’t agree more we have to have another grade school,” she said. “The current conditions are not acceptable.”

Still, Busche will not only vote against the bond issue but has joined with a group of USD 464 residents actively working to defeat the measure on the April 5 ballot.

Speaking for herself and not the group or its other members, Busche said the proposed bond package would add a new intermediate school with too few classrooms while building unneeded items such as the new high school connecting addition, which she says would have a too-elaborate façade and space for a new district office that could be found elsewhere.

“Right now, I don’t think our concern needs to be with the high school or building new administrative offices,” she said. “I know lots of people worked on this, but it’s still not what it should be considering the money we will have to put out to get this done.”

Should the bond pass, the second- through fifth-grade elementary school will open in August 2014 at 80 percent capacity. Busche said because the district starts gearing up for bond issues when a building gets to 85 percent capacity, the district was squeezing the span between the new school’s opening and the need for its next bond issue.

Adding two classrooms to each middle school wing and keeping the fifth-grade in that building would provide taxpayers more breathing room before being asked to approve the next bond, Busche said.

Busche and Dale Woodyard, another member of the group opposing the bond, said there were less expensive options for district offices. Busche suggested they could be located in the current downtown elementary school when it was remodeled.

Chris Niemeyer, who is now working with the pro-bond Quality for Kids group, was one of those who served on the facilities planning committee that developed the bond package. It was, he said, a long process in which the committee of district patrons, faculty and other stakeholders discussed plans, which the district administration then discussed with its consultants and faculty, before bringing an improved plan back to the committee for another round of refinement. All the while, the district sought and welcomed community involvement at the meetings, he said.

“Throughout the last two-and-a-half years — almost three — iterations of the plan were discussed with positives added on and bad ideas dropped,” he said. “I absolutely defend all the projects. The kids in this community will benefit on all levels with infrastructure improvements and safe, 21st century learning environments. When you can say everyone benefits, that’s powerful.”

The middle school would benefit from rooms made available by moving the fifth-grade to the new building, and high school students would have a safer, healthier environment with the corridor linking the two current buildings, Niemeyer said.

If Busche and Woodyard see the bond package as the wrong solution, they also see it as the wrong time with Tonganoxie, the state and the country still recovering from the recession.

The city’s population growth has stalled, Buschee said, and residents can see evidence of that through homes for sale, foreclosures or impending foreclosures throughout the city.

“The average person can’t afford to be paying for another bond issue every four years and tacking on additional taxes,” she said. “Until our economy picks up, we need to do as much as we can to use our resources efficiently.”

Niemeyer counters that the bond is overdue. It is indisputable the city’s population grew by 86 percent in the past decade, the district’s enrollment grew by 25 percent and the elementary school has an enrollment of 690 students in a school designed for 500, he said.

But even with the current demonstrated need, the district put off going ahead with the bond issue in 2009 and 2010 because of the economy, Niemeyer said.

“At least two times before, it wasn’t the right time,” he said. “I would simply ask, ‘When is a good time?’ The reality of the situation is, classes continue to grow, kids continue to go to classes in modulars and high school students continue to walk between buildings.

“That’s not going to change.”

The district could enjoy some advantages in bond costs from the current economic environment from lower interest rates and construction costs, Niemeyer said.

But a larger timing issue is the uncertainty surrounding the state program providing assistance for school bond projects, Niemeyer said. A move that would reduce Tonganoxie’s share of state aid from at least 25 percent to a maximum of 15 percent is now in the Kansas Senate, having passed the House. If the Tonganoxie bond issue passes April 5, its projects would be grandfathered in at the current rate before the bill — should it pass through the Legislature — becomes effective July 1.

USD 464 Superintendent Kyle Hayden said any attempt by the Legislature to back out of current commitments would invite lawsuits.

“Who knows if that will be available after July 1,” Niemeyer said. “That would be $2.5 million local taxpayers would have to make up.”

But as the state continues to deal with its financial difficulties, there is no assurance the state aid would be available, Buschee said.

“The state aid might not be there even if the bond doesn’t pass,” she said. “There is nothing written in stone guaranteeing this funding.”

Both pro- and anti-bond groups will take their cases to voters in the nearly two weeks before the April 5 referendum. Niemeyer said Quality for Kids would continue its community outreach and door-to-door activities.

Buschee said her group is planning similar outreach and door-to-door activities. The group will also have a community informational meeting at 3 p.m. Saturday at Tonganoxie VFW 9271. Hayden has been invited to give the district’s bond informational presentation and time will be allotted for questions and discussion, she said.

Comments

Old_Vet 3 years, 1 month ago

Some very good comments, some that I too have considered and continue to consider. I did not attend the VFW meeting but heard from several vets that only a few of the vets were rude to Mr. Hayden. I am ashamed of the veterans who made a scene. Their conduct is not representative of most of our good veterans and the VFW has done many great things for our community.

I hope this group has a good meeting and turn out if the purpose is to discuss alternatives. If it is to just show up and gripe then I'd be very disappointed in our community.

In the end, regardless of the outcome, the citizens are the ones that decide by vote. Not the board, not the superintendent, not the council, we the people will decide on 5 April.

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Dale Woodyard 3 years ago

I was at the meeting on March 26. It was a good constructive discussion. Dr. Hayden was invited, but was spending time with his family as I understand. I would have liked to have heard from the pro-bond issue folks at the meeting, but none were present, or if they were they did not make themselves known.

There is no need to let this issue upset people. I am against the bond as it is, but not against a new school. For me it is a matter of how it will be done, not should it be done. I do not believe the district is truly looking out for the safety of the children with this bond. All one has to do is observe the proposed traffic pattern to see that safety will take a hit with multiple starts and stops for both busses and private autos during drop off and pick up times.

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hricane23 3 years ago

Dawood,

I was also present at the meeting, and am a "Yes" vote. Through attending various other meetings, I recognized many of the attendants as staunchly against the bond for various reasons. I was brave enough to attend, but I wasn't brave enough to get in a hot debate; aside from a few comments, like making sure people didn't get the wrong impression that any taxpayer money has been used for the "Vote Yes" signs, for instance.

Anyway, I went to the meeting thinking "Yes", and came out of the meeting feeling even more so. To me, there are more compelling reasons to say "Yes" than there are to say "No", but everybody's different, and I applaud all in attendance for their interest in this issue and their lack of apathy.

I agree that there is no need for people to get riled up about this issue, and it's unfortunate that it has come to that at times. That being said, I'd be happy to share with you my view on the issue, and invite you to check out the past articles in the "series". As you will see, I'm not shy about posting my thoughts!

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JerryB 3 years ago

hricane23:

Do you know how the mailers -- the USD464 District Newsletters of February and March that were essentially big advertisements in favor of the bond and arrived in all district mailboxes -- were funded?

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hricane23 3 years ago

JerryB,

Do you mean the ones that didn't at any point, anywhere on the newsletter, in no way, shape or form, say ANYthing about "Please vote Yes"? That one? Well, I assume those came from the District, as they were informational in nature.

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Dale Woodyard 3 years ago

hricane23,

I stated earlier that I am not against a new Elementry School, how ever I am against additions to the High School that I view as not needed. Safety is a concern, but why the grand lobby for example? Wouldn't it be better to channel people as they enter the building and not allow a large space for movement once they get passed the entry? I am also concerned about the traffic pattern as proposed at the new Elementry School. As it has been proposed, It would be a huge safety issue for students and parents as children are dropped off and picked up.

Again we agree that new facilities need to be built but why this plan that is so grand and much of it unnessisary. Furthermore, one of the biggest selling points has been safety, I see just as many hazzards with this plan as with what we have now.

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hricane23 3 years ago

Dawood,

I understand that some people question the need for the high school addition. As I understand it, our high school is one of very few that cannot be "locked down", because there are too many points of entry. I wasn't a part of the group that determined the full project scope, but I understand they worked on it for three years, taking things out, putting things in, etc. I think it's important to remember that no plan is going to please everybody 100%, and while there are things that you disagree with, it is the plan we have to consider.

Aside from the needs for a new elementary school, to me, the next biggest factor is the money. If approved now, the State will kick in 25% of construction costs. That has been confirmed by Connie O'Brien, our State Representative. She also claims that the State has no money. But with the commitment, they have to pay. The opposing view is that it's not free money, and I understand that. It's Kansans' money. It's going to go somewhere, and I feel that we deserve our piece of that pie. Tonganoxians have paid into this fund, and our neighboring communities have benefited from our money, so it's our turn. Additionally, interest rates are at an all time low. Simply put, we will not be able to do this again, any piece of it, without paying more in interest costs. A 2% interest rate increase would mean more than $9 million more in interest costs. Even if we eliminated the high school piece, and came back in November with a new bond plan, and interest rates increased 1%, we'd pay the same or more. And eventually, the high school piece would some day again be a part of another bond.

At last week's candidate forum, the comment I found to be the most interesting came at the end. A Veteran explained that he was on the facility committe for the last two bond issues. he explained that the architect presented plans, and the committee took pieces out of it, trying to save money. They did it for the sake of the community, but he realizes now that it was a mistake. Something that could have been done for less money, is now costing twice as much. If they had kept things in, he said, we wouldn't be here today, considering another bond. He seemed almost apologetic.

As with any bond request, it's important to weigh the pros and cons. To me, the needs of the elementary space and the lower costs outweigh the high school. I'm not a traffic expert, but I realize that traffic will increase with the new school. I doubt very much, however, that the people who developed the plans threw caution to the wind, and didn't consider the children's safety. What we know is that the current school presents traffic and safety issues. What we don't know is how the traffic flow will end up working at the new school. But I have faith that if it ends up the traffic is a big problem, we'll find a way to fix it. But we can't fix it without trying it first.

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hricane23 3 years ago

I present this analogy:

You're at the grocery store, and have butter (school bond) on your list. At home, you have a quarter of a tub (current elementary), and you use butter frequently. You know you're going to need butter.

You have the choice of buying store brand butter (only the elementary school) for $2, or you have a $0.75 coupon for Parkay (plans included on this bond). After the coupon (state aid/ lower interest costs), reduced fat/ low sodium Parkay would be $2.50. You don't need reduced fat (high school), but you like the low sodium (more space for the future). But you decide you don't want to pay the extra $0.50 right now, because times are tough. So, you "Vote No Butter", deciding to wait a week until payday.

The next week you go back (6 months to 2 years for new plans), and now you're out of butter at home. But now, the store brand butter (new elementary school) costs $3, and your coupon is expired (state has eliminated aid package/ interest rates have jumped)! Now, you're stuck paying more for less. And both times to the store, traffic was a mess!

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Dale Woodyard 3 years ago

hricane23,

Unlike you, there are too many things, that I cannot trust this administration on, I have had personal dealings with the school. Faith is not enough, I do doubt. Why is it now that childeren are left in out buildings while administration are safe inside brick walls?

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hricane23 3 years ago

dawood,

Obviously, I don't know of the personal dealings you've had with the school. But I know that most patrons have not had negative dealings with the school nor with the Administration.

All I can say is that if we're not willing to move forward, we're destined to continue moving backwards.

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Dale Woodyard 3 years ago

hricane23,

I am not saying move backward. Let us move forward with eyes wide open.

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John_Morgan 3 years ago

Fact: TES has 690 students in a building with a capacity for 520.

Fact: This problem is not going away and something must be done to alleviate it.

Fact: The State of Kansas will kick in 25% assistance to the proposed bond (all but “written in stone”), and is there for us if we vote yes on April 5.

Fact: Funding from State of Kansas next year will be (at best) 15%, and our local school district will get less assistance for capital projects.

Some opposing the bond are advocating a larger elementary school, additions to the middle school, and doing nothing with the high school. A plan like that won’t likely lower the total cost of the project, but will likely reshuffle the dollars from one facility to another.

Others opposing this bond want to do nothing, leaving our schools overcrowded, deteriorating, and unsafe.

We can’t do “nothing”. What is the cost of waiting another year? Even if construction costs manage to stay flat, the patrons of USD # 464 will have to foot the bill for a MINIMUM of an additional $2.5-$3.0 million. It could be more, and that’s a big gamble.

The plan we’ll be voting on weighs the needs of all students within the district, at all facilities, and addresses those needs. The plan received public input for the last 2 ½ years, and has considered community opinions. The plan capitalizes on outside assistance that will result in lower impacts to the patrons of USD # 464, and is considerate of those impacts. The plan was conceived with the assistance of experts in the field of facilities planning and design – people who make their living counseling districts and their constituents on what works best for kids, parents, and staff. This is a good plan.

In the end, folks will need to vote their conscience. For me, the status quo is not acceptable.

I’m finding it harder and harder to find a reason not to vote yes on April 5.

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Padfield 3 years ago

Well, it has happened. Someone finally stole my "Vote Yes" sign out of my yard. I would like to say that I am surprised. I witnessed some kids carrying one out a little late Saturday night over here in the Stone Creek addition. I circled around and did another drive by. There were some adults out enjoying the weather on their driveway. I couldn't be certain that they were from the same group, but they were loitering and not in any hurry to slip away into the night. It sickens me that parents my have encouraged, or at least turned a blind eye to, this theft.

Please, return my yard sign.

Thank you, Mark Padfield

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