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Class Size & Football Stadium at Issue in Gardner Edgerton Bond Vote

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Gardner Edgerton Unified School District 231 can proceed with plans asking citizens to approve $72 million in bonds, now that the Kansas State Board of Education has approved the January vote.

Building new schools to eliminate overcrowding would be the primary purpose of funds if voters approve the bonds. According to Gardner Edgerton administrators, the district has room for 5,798 students and an enrollment of 5,036. The number of students has been increasing over the past two decades and is projected to continue increasing. Enrollment is expected to exceed capacity next year or the year after.

If voters approve the bond sale, it will take the district about 18 months to build the planned elementary and two years to build the planned middle school, which means the new facilities should be complete about the time more space is needed. Estimated cost of these two buildings is slightly more than 65 percent of the proposed bond issue. Gardner-Edgerton plans to spend the rest of the money on a high school athletics addition, technology, improvements to already-existing buildings and land acquisition.

Selling bonds is a form of debt for a school district like acquiring a mortgage is for a home owner. District homeowners would pay for 65 percent of the proposed bonds over 20 years. The state of Kansas would pay for the rest from a special fund that may not be available after next year. The money would come from the School Finance Formula, which Governor Sam Brownback is proposing to change. This week, he announced that he will submit his proposal to the state legislature when it reconvenes in January. Even with state aid, the average homeowner in the Gardner Edgerton district can expect to pay about $4.27 a month or $51.27 a year in increased property taxes.

Critics of the bond issue have questioned the need to take on $72 million in additional debt during the current economic crisis. If critics prevail and the bond issue does not receive voter approval, district administrators say schools will be overcrowded and class sizes will increase.

Some critics have also questioned plans to spend a little more than 10 percent of proposed bond proceeds on athletic facilities and stadium improvements at the high school in a time of fiscal austerity. According to district administrators, the growing number of students there need more physical education space. In addition, administrators say that because the district is growing, its athletes are now competing in a larger league and expansion would put the stadium on par with facilities in other districts of similar size.

Reducing class size has long been a popular school improvement strategy. However, as school budgets shrink, class sizes have been doing the opposite. This trend may not be as detrimental as some might think. Education research does suggest students perform better academically in small classes. It’s not as simple, though, as just reducing class sizes. One issue is that districts may not reduce class sizes enough (the ideal number of students seems to be about 16). Another issue is that teacher salaries are usually a district’s largest expense, and there is a temptation to spend less by hiring less experienced and therefore less effective teachers when reducing class sizes. There are options besides adding more classrooms. As a matter of fact, United States Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he prefers the idea of more time in school — longer days and a longer year. He points out that some countries outperforming the United States academically have as many as 33 students in classes on average. Besides more time in school, other options include co-teaching and online classes.

Many school districts these days are making the hard decision to cut back on funding for expensive athletic programs and charging participants pay-to-play fees. Of course, Gardner Edgerton’s football program received a huge boost in interest during the time multitalented athlete Bubba Starling (who recently signed a $5 million contract with the Kansas City Royals rather than go to college on a football scholarship) played there. As it turns out, there may actually be solid reasons to preserve athletic and other extracurricular programs. According to an article that appeared this week in Harvard University’s EducationNext journal, research suggests “there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming a responsible citizen.” The reasons are not entirely clear, but one expert has suggested that extracurricular activities keep students engaged and more involved with their schools both socially and academically. Another expert asked a focus group of college students what “important things” they remembered from high school, and no one mentioned anything academic. It was their extracurricular activities, they said, that taught adult skills such as leadership, persistence, self-discipline and time management.

The district has scheduled seven public meetings where community members can find out more about the proposed bond issue:

Wednesday, Oct. 19, Pioneer Ridge Middle School, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 1, Sunflower Elementary, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 2, Wheatridge Middle School, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 8, Edgerton Elementary, 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 15, Gardner Elementary, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 17, Gardner Edgerton High School, 7 p.m.

The Kansas State Board of Education met Tuesday, Oct. 11, in Topeka. Gardner Edgerton’s bond issue was on the consent agenda, which the board approved as presented with no changes. Because the district has now received state board approval, voters will go to the polls Tuesday, Jan. 31. The deadline for registering to vote on this issue is Friday, Dec. 30.

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Register to vote:
http://www.jocoelection.org/voters/VoterRegistration.htm

District Information About the Proposed Bond Issue:
http://www.usd231.com/webUSD231/Forms/SubPage.aspx?menu=652_207_2

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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