Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012
Olathe ready to build new elementary school
By DAWN BORMANN
The Kansas City Star
The Olathe School District is poised to build its next elementary school.
Elementary school No. 35, as it’s now known, is expected to open in August 2014 near 119th Street and Lone Elm Road in Olathe, said Superintendent Marlin Berry.
Official school boundaries have yet to be determined, but the school will help relieve overcrowding at Fair View and Meadow Lane elementaries. It will also provide short-term relief at Ravenwood Elementary, which is projected to experience more growth in the coming years.
That strategy means the district will move several existing employees including teachers to the new school rather than hiring an entirely new staff.
“Because we’ll be moving kids out we’ll be staffing it internally,” Berry said.
He said the boundary changes have yet to be made but the process will include input from citizens.
Board members said the school is necessary to help keep up with the rapid pace of growth in Olathe, which is the second-largest district in the state. This year records show about 583 additional students attend the district. It brings the district headcount to 28,872 students. District records show the three largest sections of students are in kindergarten, second and fourth grades.
The school board approved a plan earlier this month to hire Turner Construction to serve as the construction manager for the new school. The district has already approved using an architectural plan similar to that of Forest View Elementary in order to save money.
Voters approved the $11.5 million school as part of a 2007 bond referendum. Berry said the district is going to use qualified school construction bonds to borrow money at zero percent, to help finance details of the school construction. The bonds are expected to save the school district millions of dollars over the life of the bond.
Kansas deputy education commissioner, Dale Dennis, said the bonds have been popular in recent years.
“It’s a golden opportunity,” he said.
The bonds were designed to help stimulate economic activity through construction.
Many school districts longed to take advantage of the zero-interest program. But, Dennis said, many lacked one crucial detail.
“First you’ve got to get permission from your people to get it approved,” he said.
The timing was ideal for Olathe since voters had approved the school in 2007.
The school is yet another example of how Olathe administrators have found themselves in the awkward situation of having to explain how the school district can build new facilities even as it struggles to keep up with operating dollars that pay for student resources and teachers.
Board members said the district needs to do a better job of explaining that voter-approved bond money, by law, can only be used for construction and maintenance projects.
Board member Harlan Parker said he heard recently from a patron and a teacher questioning other construction projects.
“Boy, we must be really plush because we’re doing all this building,” Parker said, recalling one of those conversations.
The bond money cannot be used to supplement general operating dollars, which pay for salaries and more. The general operating dollars have been cut in recent years to account for losses in state revenue.
Time and again, board members said they have had to answer to parents, community members and even employees who don’t understand the state’s funding policies and laws.
Several board members asked administrators to help them spread the message about the two separate funds to taxpayers and employees.