Bill Gilhaus
Gardner-Edgerton Superintendent
I appreciate the opportunity to address the July 15, editorial and respond to several legitimate questions regarding the proposed bond issue.  The Board of Education took official action at the Aug. 1, school board meeting to approve a bond resolution authorizing a bond election in USD 231 in January 2012.
Why is USD 231 proposing a bond issue during this economy?
Although Gardner and Edgerton’s community growth has slowed recently due to declines in housing sales, the district continues to gain additional students year after year.  During the past six years (2005-2011) student enrollment in USD 231 has continued to increase at an average of 6 percent annually which equates to approximately 250+ new students each year.  In short, the economy has slowed down but our enrollment growth has continued to increase.  USD 231 is one of the fastest growing school districts in the state regardless of the current economic situation.
Would boundary changes address the overcrowding that exists at several schools?
Our current district wide elementary enrollment capacity level is 2,598.  In other words, the six existing elementary schools will accommodate 2,598 students.  The enrollment for elementary students in 2013 is projected to be 2,650, and in 2014 the projected elementary enrollment is 2,800.  The projected enrollment figure in 2013 exceeds the current district wide elementary capacity level.  As a result, changing boundaries does not address our future elementary enrollment challenges. Our middle schools have a similar challenge.  Both Pioneer Ridge and Wheatridge have enrollment capacities of 800 students which equals 1,600 total.  District wide middle school enrollment for 2014 is projected to exceed 1,850 students.  Again, changing boundaries does not address this concern.  To build an elementary school requires 18 months of construction time, and 24 months construction time for a middle school.  This necessitates proactive planning and responding to our student growth in a timely manner.
What additions will be made at the high school and why?
In addition to the elementary and middle school challenges, the high school is also beginning to experience space deficiencies as a direct result of a growing student population in grades 9-12, and an increase in participation in physical education courses and extra-curricular activities.  For example, participation in the high school elective Athletic Development classes has increased from 510 to 915 participants over a five-year span.  Furthermore, student participation in extra-curricular athletic/activity teams increased from 557 to 770 during that same period of time.
Increased student participation in extra-curricular activities requires the need for additional athletic teams.  For example, Gardner Edgerton High School now has 10 basketball teams when you take into consideration both the boys and the girls programs.  Scheduling practices and games present a challenge when you take into account the high school currently has three gymnasiums.  In addition to all of the girls and boys sports programs, activities such as cheerleading and dance teams are also limited in practicing and performing space.
Are upgrades to the District Activities Complex (DAC) included in the bond proposal?
Yes. Additional seating, concessions, field upgrades and restrooms are included in the Capital Improvements component of the Bond Issue.  Why? The DAC was constructed in 2000 and at that time the enrollment at Gardner Edgerton High School was 714 students. Our athletic teams participated in the Frontier League which consisted of 3A and 4A size high schools with enrollments ranging from 300-800.  Today, GEHS is classified as a 5A school with an enrollment of 1,244 students, and projected to be 1,600 by 2014. The high school currently participates in the Eastern Kansas League (EKL) with other 5A and 6A high schools with enrollments ranging from approximately 1,000-1,600.
The DAC currently has a seating capacity of 3,200 and the expansion would increase seating to approximately 4,200. Surrounding 5A and 6A district activity complexes have seating capacities ranging from 4,700-8,500.  During the past several years increased attendance has required the district to lease additional seating/bleachers to accommodate spectators.  An expansion would provide parity with other high schools our size and provide appropriate facility space for athletic competitions, activity events and graduation ceremonies.
In addition to expanding seating, concessions and restroom facilities, installation of all-weather artificial turf is also a component of the Capital Improvements being made to the DAC.  Artificial turf would serve high school physical education classes, football and soccer teams, youth camps, marching band, cheerleaders and dance teams.  The major benefits to artificial turf are; it reduces expenses related to the maintenance of grass turf such as mowing, fertilizing, watering, and stripping the field; and provides 24/7 access and utilization for all activities, eliminating weather concerns and overuse which damages grass fields.
Although not a specific question, a concern expressed in the editorial was the impact a $72.8 million bond would have on local taxpayers.  The Board of Education and administration are sensitive to our taxpayers and have worked diligently to structure the bond issue in a manner that is hopefully affordable and supported by our patrons.
In the event the bond issue is approved by our patrons, during the first two budget cycles (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), taxpayers would experience no increase in taxes.  Beginning with the third year, the least amount of investment a $150,000 homeowner would incur would be $1.44 a month.  In subsequent years, the maximum monthly amount of investment the homeowner would incur would be $4.27 a month.  After the third year the mill levy will begin to decrease as previous bond issues are liquidated.  This will result in a reduced tax liability to our patrons from the proposed 2012 bond issue.
Finally, a major financial advantage of moving forward with a bond issue in January 2012 is that under the current school finance formula, the state of Kansas will fund 35 percent of the total bond issue.  In essence, the state will assume over $25 million dollars of the cost of the bond thereby reducing the amount absorbed by our local taxpayers.
I hope this information addresses the questions posed in the editorial.  The school district appreciates the partnership and support The Gardner News has provided through the years in reporting school related activities, stories and  events.  Your support has generated publicity which has benefitted our students, staff, programs, individual schools, and our district as a whole.
It is a priority to our Board of Education and administration to continue to provide the quality of education our students deserve and our communities have come to expect. In order to keep our promise and remain on the path of educational excellence, we must plan ahead to stay ahead.
Sincerely,
Dr. Bill Gilhaus,
Superintendent of Schools
For additional information pertaining to the Bond Issue, please visit the USD 231 Web site at www.usd231.com and click on the Bond Issue Tab. This page provides presentations to the Facility Focus Committee, the Summer Horizon Newsletter, Questions and Answers including an e-mail address for personal inquiries ([email protected]) and other related information. The school district welcomes your questions and concerns in an effort to provide you with the most accurate and precise information available.