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Wednesday, November 14, 2012 8:51 PM

School official urges voter education on consolidation, bond issue

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

POMONA — Plans continue to move forward in one Franklin County school district’s proposal for a bond election. 

The West Franklin school board has continued talks of consolidation, spurred by the potential success of a bond issue. The next step in the process will include a series of committee and board meetings, as well as at least two information sessions with district patrons, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said. The public information sessions are essential to the process, Bradbury said, so residents will be knowledgeable about the bond issue before casting their votes.

“Ultimately, the voter is going to decide on the success or failure of a bond issue,” Bradbury said. “And in order for them to make an informed decision, it’s paramount that they be provided all the information in terms of what the costs are, what the options are — so that they can make the best-informed decision in terms of a long-range facilities plan.”

The meetings are expected to allow residents to ask questions, receive information regarding the facilities and give feedback on options. While an exact date hasn’t been set for the meetings, Bradbury said he expects the first one to be scheduled in mid- to late January, with the second following the first week in February. After the meetings, the board again will be asked to make a decision, the superintendent said. 

“At the March board meeting, the board will be asked to pass a resolution approving a bond election to be held the first week of June,” Bradbury said.

A majority vote on a bond election would begin the consolidation process that ultimately would bring the district’s 650 students from the three West Franklin campuses --— Pomona, Appanoose and Williamsburg — to one campus in Pomona. If the bond issue fails, Bradbury said previously, the board likely would try again the following year. The district may only have one bond election per calendar year. 

A recent tax cut bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, Bradbury said, likely will decrease the state aid given to school districts during the next five years. Unless more tax collections are added back into the mix, school districts across the state will have to cut back, essentially forcing consolidation, whether or not district residents support it.

No timeline has been set for the consolidation of the schools, though the passing of a bond issue would mark the beginning of that process. Bradbury said the consolidation is not likely to happen until 2015 at the earliest. 

After several months of discussion on the issue, the school board recently hired construction manager Nabholz Construction Services of Olathe, and an architect, Howard and Helmer of Overland Park, for the project. Representatives from both firms are expected to be part of the information sessions. 

The board has yet to settle on an amount for the bond election, electing to wait on cost recommendations from the two firms. A potential bright spot, Bradbury said, is that the bond issue might not be as expensive as originally projected. Earlier talks included asking for a bond election between $20 and $25 million, but under the recommendation of the contractor and architect, Bradbury said that might be too much to ask of residents. 

“The price tag is going to have to be less in order to stay competitive with surrounding districts in terms of their mill rate and have a better rate of success of passage,” Bradbury said of the professionals’ advice. “We simply don’t have a tax base to support a $20 or $25 million bond issue.”

Regardless of what amount is on the ballot in June, Bradbury said, voters will be given specific information about the bond proposal — helpful for residents who did not attend the information sessions. While the eventual consolidation is likely to be long and tedious series of tasks, with the most difficult challenges still to come, Bradbury said, the process has been going well so far. 

“I think we have a good group of professionals to assist us, and we have sufficient time to do this in a timely fashion,” he said.

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