The select group of citizens and teachers have made their recommendation to the school board for the upcoming bond: $60 Million.
There was a tremendous amount of information presented at the meetings on K-8 and very little on the high school. In fact we spent most of the six meetings on a single issue: should we keep Walton school open. It was clear to me early on that we shouldn’t have even been discussing Walton, other than the need for a storm shelter and eliminating the trailer classrooms. Walton overcrowding is a function of poor management of district resources, nothing more. As I have discussed in previous columns there are empty class rooms in the elementary buildings around the district but the administration is unwilling to tell parents to send their children to the schools with empty rooms.
Newton is 90 percent of USD 373 enrollment. What is good for Newton is good for the district. Spending $12 million on Walton school when you will have to bus more students there is bad for the district. If Newton is truly growing at a breakneck rate, then another facility for $15 million in town makes much more sense for the district and Newton. I am not saying we have to close Walton now or in the future, I am just saying to utilize the resources we have, then wait and see what population does. If USD 373 enrollment ends up like the past – almost steady – then there will be no need to do anything except place students in empty classrooms we already have. If it does grow 5 percent, then we have plenty of room in our existing classrooms.
We ever so briefly looked at the high school. It started as a $38 million project then ended up as a $41 million that includes adding more square footage. There are some needs at the high school which has not been seriously remodeled inside since it was built. This begs a couple questions: what have all the previous bond monies been spent on and what does the district do with replacement reserves they accumulate? Wouldn’t you think a responsible administration/board would plan for these things without having to constantly dip into the taxpayers’ wallets more than they already do? The administrations answer is most of the money collected yearly is spent on things like roof coverings, carpet, paint, etc. with nothing left over for capital improvements. OK, so why does adding a science wing make sense if you can’t even keep up with the square footage you have now? Any bond issue always seems to build more, more, more square footage. Last time we added offices and a new media center at the high school opening up a bunch of square footage, now we need even more for the same amount of students as when the facility was built?
Another thing that bothered me was when I was having a discussion about this process with a board member last week. I mentioned that the architect firm that was leading this process wasn’t being paid but expected to get the work if and when a bond passed. The board member wasn’t aware of that arrangement. I am not saying the firm is anything but honorable but it is certainly in their best interest to have as large a bond as possible since they will make a percentage of the total as their fee for services. Now the district is tied into this one architect and their ideas. If some other firm has an idea how we can take care of district needs for significantly less they are shut out.
According to the DLR group the core of the high school can be completely remodeled for about $15 million. This will take care of our most immediate needs and provide another 30 years of quality facilities for our children. I still feel the interior space can be remodeled for much less since the DLR plan is to gut and start over instead of using what is good and fixing what is in poor shape.
We should encourage the board to take care of things of most importance today and keep a watchful eye on population growth. If the city is growing south then so should the services. If the city holds essentially steady, as it has for 30 years, then maybe spending millions on expansion would be a waste of resources.
— Jason Mitchell is a member of the leadership team of the Harvey County Republican Party. He can be reached by phone at (316) 680- 6456 or email jsmitch73@ hotmail.com.