As students wait for the 8 a.m. bell at McDermott Elementary School Thursday, they crowd into the building’s triple-purpose gymnasium-cafeteria-auditorium. Following tape marks on the floor, each student sits in a row, with about 18 square inches of space. Meanwhile, children who participate in the school breakfast program stop in the building foyer to collect a tray, pick up a carton of milk from a cooler that sits in a hallway, and find a spot at the tables lining the north wall. “It’s wall-to-wall kids in here,” said a substitute teacher who often works at the school. On the morning this photograph was taken, classroom paraprofessional workers said that the day was not as crowded as usual, with some children home sick or trying to avoid the frigid temperatures. L&T photo/Rachel Coleman
Tonight’s meeting lists one agenda item
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Before the end of January, USD 480 aims to have a bond proposal for facility needs ready to present to voters for a spring special election. In a special meeting tonight, the board of education will hear a final session of feedback about what patrons of the district want.
The board will meet at 5:30 at the Education Service Center, 624 N. Grant. Tonight’s meeting agenda lists just one item: “Future Facility Needs/Financing.”
It’s expected that the main focus in discussion will be a presentation by members of the district’s volunteer Vision Team, which spearheaded the bond plans. Through a series of community meetings, the team refined a picture of what parents, businesses and, perhaps most important, voters want as the district seeks to relieve the problems of overcrowding, less-than-ideal safety and security measures, and the inability to provide early education to all preschool and kindergarten students.
Board members are eager to hear comments drawn from a telephone survey conducted during the holiday break. Patron Insights conducted the survey in cooperation with the district’s architecture/engineering firm, DLR, in order review what appears to be the most popular plan.
That plan proposes whittling the district’s current nine-school model for elementary education down to five schools. Each would house students from kindergarten to fifth grade in three current locations — Cottonwood, Sunflower and MacArthur — and two new buildings that would be constructed east of Kansas Avenue. MacArthur’s site, with plenty of land, would eventually house a brand-new building.
To avoid the problem of abandoned buildings, the district would repurpose Lincoln and Southlawn as preschool centers. Garfield, McDermott and McKinley would also be converted for use as district buildings. It’s possible that Washington Elementary would be reused as an adult education center.
Two completely new middle schools for grades six through eight would be constructed, one on the northwest side of Liberal, and one on the southeast side. What is currently West Middle School would become annexed to Liberal High School, perhaps as a ninth-grade center. South Middle School would be repurposed, perhaps as a community recreational and education center. The existing high school would also be lightly renovated.
Approximate cost for the proposed plan would be $148 million, of which the state of Kansas would provide half. A proposed 1/2-cent sales tax for the life of the bond, administered through the city of Liberal, would offset the remaining expense to local taxpayers collected through the mill levy on property owners. A rough estimate of the cost to a homeowner with property worth $100,000 would be $14 per month; homes worth less would incur a slightly lower tax increase, while those of higher value would see a larger tax increase.
In previous meetings, the board discussed the importance of taking one last pass at collecting information from the public. If people responded to the survey with the general attitude that “you guys are crazy if you think we’re going to vote for this,” it would be good to know that ahead of time, various board members said in discussions.
Yet all are hopeful that the plan will meet with approval.
“Liberal is in such transition, the community is growing, and yet it’s been difficult to move forward,” reflected board president Delvin Kinser at the board’s final meeting of 2013. “It’s my prayer that we’re getting to that place.”
Tonight’s meeting is open to the public. No action is planned by the board, as it plans to review information from the Vision Team and Patron Insights. A vote on a final version of the proposed bond issue is anticipated for the Jan. 20 USD 480 board meeting.