Good News on our 2016 School Bond: the work is progressing, and expenditures below estimated costs have resulted in savings that afford KCKPS the opportunity to get even more done that first planned. It has been this district’s way to value and invite community support because an effective school district has strong collaborative relationships among the community, the board of education and the administrative staff.
On April 24, the board of education will be asked to identify the right additional work to authorize in light of these savings. As community members who voted, with a 79% approval rate, to pass a Zero-Tax Increase Bond Referendum that will benefit each child in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, I encourage you to attend that meeting. If you cannot attend, you can watch it live streamed on YouTube. Here is my summary of the community input leading up to this happy but still difficult decision.
Community Vision Team
Early in 2016, Superintendent Lane assembled a Community Vision Team of about 30 individuals from across our school district. I was one of those on the Community Vision Team. These volunteers spent hours over the course of six months to study the condition of all facilities in the district. Our school district had already built or renovated 14 facilities using existing funds. But it wasn’t enough. As the Community Vision Team received detailed information from our district’s administrative staff, they came to understand that continued maintenance would be more expensive than real upgrades and repairs. This was a semester-long “class” on reality in providing learning spaces for our students. And these volunteers showed up.
Armed with understanding about the age of each building, the goals and requirements of Diploma+, population trends toward more diversity and a growing student population, as well as practical considerations about land available and technical building issues, the Community Vision Team recommended that the school district approve projects costing more than 500 Million Dollars. Then we were informed of research showing that Wyandotte County would not pass a school bond that big. The electorate would only pass a bond that did not increase taxes, a 235 Million Dollar bond. So, the Community Vision Team painfully went through the list with administrative staff and identified which projects should go in this first 5-year bond and which projects must go on the Wait list. We hope that success on the current 235 Million Dollar bond would set the stage for a second bond 5 years later that would complete the list.
Thus, with broad community input, the administrative staff brought a proposal to the board of education in 2016 that they approve a bond for that very election season. The board of education took into account the administrative staff work and the community priorities and recommendations. They approved a bond that would touch each school building, address expensive maintenance issues, and bring us closer to graduating every student Diploma+. The Community Vision Team helped shape the initiative and priorities to resonate with the voters in Wyandotte County. And the no-tax-increase bond passed with 79% approval.
2018 More Choices
Good stewardship of the bond resources has now resulted in significant savings. As 2018 began, the district’s administrative staff determined that there have been enough savings in the bond work to date that the school district could consider additional work that was left on the Wait list. So, they called in the same Community Vision Team to meet again.
Here are some of the Community Vision Team’s considerations. Looking at the age and space limitations, there are definitely schools that we would still like to see demolished and rebuilt and others to be improved, but they were on the Wait list because we couldn’t afford to do it all at once: A middle school costs over 30 Million Dollars, and an elementary school costs about 18 Million Dollars. Also, nobody likes to have schools coping with modular units to expand their capacity, so we wondered if there was a way to start down the list of eliminating modular units one school at a time. We talked about stabilizing and improving neighborhoods across the district. We talked about the need to provide appropriate places for business and community partners helping to implement Diploma+. We talked about the value in taking projects currently in a work packet and adding features while we are there to get the longest possible service from this work. This echoes the original concern that continuing to repair all the buildings costs more than fixing them. We looked at the Wait list. We only had 15 Million in savings, so there are more painful choices to be made.
West Middle becoming an elementary. After reviewing its exhaustive work in 2016, and considering the current projects underway, the Community Vision Committee came to the consensus that it would make sense to revise the existing project changing West Middle School into an elementary school. The budget estimate started with 8.5 Million for that project, but early planning revealed that the building has more issues (e.g. replace all plumbing, outside facade of the building leaks in many places), so renovation would actually be more like 13 Million Dollars. This would create a very nicely renovated building with an elevator, wider doorways, and improved high-wind shelter, all with a 20-year remaining life span. Yet, for 5 Million Dollars more, it could be a brand new elementary school instead. That choice would create a new building with 21st century education space planning, a better high-wind shelter and with a 50-year lifespan.
Fiske Elementary. Similarly, the Community Vision Team could see that it would be a good idea to expand the work at Fiske Elementary. Funding already exists to add a kitchen beyond the closet sized space they currently have, but it would still be very small. And the 4 modular classrooms are near end of their useful life on that property. The current funding does not add any parking or address the use of the modular units. With additional funding, Fiske could add a new multi-purpose room that doubles as a high wind shelter, a preferred kitchen, and 4 classrooms (no more modulars), storage and some additional parking.
Upgrading these two projects do not take up all the current savings. And there may be even more savings as work progresses on the existing projects. So maybe in the future there could be another opportunity to enhance the overall bond initiative. But for now, it seems right to take on these two upgrades.
This Blog is being generated by a group of citizens invited by USD 500 to participate as a Citizen's Advisory Committee during the Bond Issue campaign. This group continues to be involved in supporting USD 500 and watching the results from the successful Bond election. This Blog is best read from the bottom/oldest post to the to/newest post.