By L&T Publisher Earl Watt
There are only 21 days until local voters will determine whether or not to invest in a plan to expand the school district or whether to keep spending money on patches and portables.
Some in town may remember my grandma, Thelma Welch. I guess I inherited the enjoyment of a good debate from her, and so I look forward to discussions about the bond election.
Thursday at 6 p.m., the public is invited to the Rock Island Depot to come listen to the nuts and bolts of the plan, how it will be financed, and why it is the best idea as well as the best use of our tax dollars.
One of the difficulties in the discussion has nothing to do with the plan or how it is financed. The most difficult part of discussing the plan is heading off the misinformation.
“I heard they’re gonna build a new high school,” one story goes.
“And a new central office,” goes another.
Neither is true, but when you can look someone in the face and tell them it’s not true, and they still don’t believe you, there’s not much else you can do.
When public groups considered all the options of repairing, replacing or rebuilding our schools, the question did arise about how to address the overcrowding at Liberal High School.
The options on the table varied from adding several thousand additional square feet, annexing West Middle School or building a new one altogether.
It didn’t take long for the new high school to be scrapped.
There were two reasons for scrapping a new high school. The first was that the high school is still in relatively good shape even if it is a bit small for the current student population, and the second was cost.
A new high school added $70 million to the plan.
The answer was no.
That left the options of additional square feet or annexing West.
Again, the decision came down to cost.
Annexing West was the lowest cost option, and so that was what the solution for the overcrowding at LHS became.
Rachel Coleman already wrote an article addressing no new Central Office in Sunday’s Leader&Times, but to recap, no, there will not be the construction of a new Central Office.
Central Office will more than likely move in to McKinley, and that building will continue to be used. The old Central Office on Kansas Avenue will be sold, and the proceeds will be used to fund the district.
Again, these are simply examples of prudence in determining the best use of tax dollars on this plan.
Last week, we had to correct the notion that no additional square footage would be added to the plan.
Of course there is additional space being added, 150,000 additional square feet.
Five years ago, there was a bad bond proposal. It was ill-planned, had little public input and didn’t solve the overcrowding issues district-wide. It was good that it failed, 60 percent to 40 percent.
This plan is a much better plan that had more than 700 people contribute to its final version. It has a better financial structure with more matching funds from the State of Kansas and a half-cent sales tax, something the proposal five years ago did not have.
This proposal is the right proposal. The only way to harm this plan is with misinformation.
The other is to believe that a no vote won’t result in a tax increase.
The kids are here. Portable buildings will take millions to build just to keep up with the overcrowding.
If we look back at the last 25 years, we have easily spent $36 million on building enhancements and expansions.
If we look ahead to the next 25 years, we will do the same. The difference is a no vote means we will pay 100 percent of the additions on our own and only get $36 million worth.
A yes vote will spend the same $36 million of local property dollars but match them with $91 million from state and sales tax sources.
If we are going to spend $36 million one way or the other as history has shown us we will, then the best plan is to include additional sources and support a plan that makes the most sense.
Or, we can listen to crazy talk on the street about new high schools and central offices and lose a chance to get state and sales tax support.
The real plan is simply, three new elementaries, convert Sunflower and Cottonwood to elementaries, two new middle schools and annex West for the high school with some money spent for upgrades and transitions to accommodate the annexation.
Use all the old schools except McDermott and Washington. Sell those two properties.
That’s it. It’s not fancy, but it will be a long-term solution and save the taxpayers from wasteful spending on portables and patches.