Wednesday, April 23, 2014

West Franklin bond election set for June 4 ballot

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 3/13/2013

Patrons of West Franklin schools will decide this summer whether to centralize the district’s schools or head back to the proverbial drawing board.

West Franklin school board members voted 7-0 Monday in favor of a $14.3-million bond issue — which would have to be approved by voters — to help finance an estimated $16-million project to improve West Franklin’s middle and high schools and provide a centralized campus for all district schools. The board set the bond’s vote — which would be by mail-in ballot — for June 4, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said. If passed, the district would commit about $1.7 million in remaining costs using existing capital improvement funds, Bradbury said.

Patrons of West Franklin schools will decide this summer whether to centralize the district’s schools or head back to the proverbial drawing board.

West Franklin school board members voted 7-0 Monday in favor of a $14.3-million bond issue — which would have to be approved by voters — to help finance an estimated $16-million project to improve West Franklin’s middle and high schools and provide a centralized campus for all district schools. The board set the bond’s vote — which would be by mail-in ballot — for June 4, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said. If passed, the district would commit about $1.7 million in remaining costs using existing capital improvement funds, Bradbury said.

“They’ve spent a great deal of time studying the issue and looking at all the possibilities,” Bradbury said of the board members. “We’ve done studies. We’ve done a survey, held patron forums to get input, and now it will be up to the voters to make that decision.”

The bond offer would budget for classroom additions, renovations of existing buildings, a new gym, weight room, vocational/agricultural education, a wood shop building, an eight-lane competition track and parking lot improvements, according to West Franklin’s website. The improvements also would connect the campus buildings.  

The board’s alternative “vision” for the district, which was not chosen to be presented to voters, would have maintained all three campuses and made improvements to the existing facilities. The total cost of the second option was estimated at about $15.2 million. It included improvements to both the Appanoose ($1.475 million) and Williamsburg ($2.721 million) campuses, a new gym and vocational-agriculture/wood shop at the Pomona campus and such additional improvements as heating and air unit replacements and new security measures on each of the three campuses.

Ultimately, Bradbury said, the board’s decision to move forward with the consolidation bond option was the best means to cut costs.

“The whole reason for the board looking at bringing everyone to one facility is quite honestly to reduce operating expenses,” Bradbury said Wednesday. “We’re now at 2001 funding levels for the base state aid per pupil. Our enrollment is declining. We’re now at 630 [students] and the projection over the next five years is that we’re going to lose another 50 to 75 students.”

That declining number of students is precisely why some patrons, including Larry Milliken, oppose the bond’s terms.

“We don’t need to build new buildings at this time,” Milliken, Williamsburg, said. “If our number of children continues to go down, there will be no need for new buildings to begin with.”

In addition to his concerns about unnecessary buildings, Milliken said he’s been displeased with the board’s methodology in selecting the appropriate vision. A majority of West Franklin patrons, he said, opted to maintain the district’s three campuses, as opposed to consolidation. The money needed for the consolidation project, Milliken said, would be better spent improving the district’s current schools.  

“They’ve put out two different surveys ... and the patrons have voted overwhelmingly to keep all three schools, and they just threw it out the window when they saw it,” Milliken said. “They’re not doing the wants of the majority of the people in the district and that’s what bothers me most of all — that they’re ramrodding this through. ... They’re spending tens of thousands of dollars for these surveys, and then they’re not using the surveys when they get them completed.”

In spite of some patrons’ reservations, Bradbury said, the consolidating bond option would ensure the district a stable future.

“I think the board’s decision was to use those resources in the most effective manner [and] to put those resources in a single site,” Bradbury said. “You decrease your operating costs and you create a situation where the district is going to continue to be financially viable well into the future.”  

The bond question (provided by the West Franklin school district website), as it will appear on the mail-in ballot, reads:

Shall the following be adopted?

Shall Unified School District No. 287, Franklin County, Kansas (West Franklin), issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $14,320,000, to pay a portion of the estimated $16,016,710 costs to construct, equip and furnish additions, improvements and renovations to the existing West Franklin High School and Middle School campus, to provide for a single centralized elementary school, middle school and high school campus to serve the District, including (a) classroom additions and remodeling of existing buildings, (b) a new gymnasium, new weight room, new vocational/agricultural education and wood shop building, new eight lane competition track and parking lot improvements, (c) improvements to connect buildings, and (d) all necessary and related renovations and improvements; all pursuant to the provisions of K.S.A.10-101 et seq.; K.S.A. 25-2018(f); K.S.A. 72-6761; and K.S.A. 75-2315 et seq.? The balance of the costs shall be paid from available district funds.

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