A Southeast Kansas school district is asking voters to approve three separate bond questions on the April ballot. District administrators say after their last bond question failed several years ago, they decided to change how they’re approaching the issue.
District administrators say all three have to do with the future of the district, and making sure they’re providing students with the best education possible. Voters in the Iola School District are being asked to weigh in on a $25.5 million dollar bond question to build a new facility that would house the students currently located at three separate elementary schools.
The second bond question is for a new STEM building that would have storm shelters for the high school and middle school at seven million dollars, and the third question is a $2.8 million dollar H/VAC upgrade at the middle school. The elementary school question would have to pass for either of the other two questions to pass. But the last time the district asked voters to approve a bond, it failed. And Ryan Sparks was one of those who voted against it.
“I think most of the no voters in 2014 knew there was a need for a plan for the school district, but they didn’t agree with the plan that was proposed,” says Ryan Sparks, Citizens Steering Committee.
That proposal was a fifty million dollar question that would have build a new high school and new elementary school.
“With the bond being defeated, we had to go back and say, ‘well, obviously there’s some strong sentiment, what did we do wrong, and what do we need to change?'” says Stacey Fager, Superintendent, Iola School District.
Fager says that lead to the formation of a Citizens Steering Committee 18 months ago, made up of equal representation from those who voted for and against the last bond. After weeks of work, that committee submitted their recommendations to the school board, and that lead to the three questions on the April ballot. But Fager says in order for either the new STEM center or the H/VAC upgrades to move forward, the elementary question would have to pass first.
“So we could have just the elementary passing, just the elementary and the science building passing, just the elementary and the HVAC upgrades at the middle school, all three, or none,” says Stacey Fager.
Fager says construction of a new elementary building would consolidate three campuses into one, allowing staff to better focus their efforts. At the moment, teachers say sharing services between three campuses can lead to complicated schedules.
“We have a speech pathologist, and we share her with the middle school and McKinnley, so she’s not always here all the time,” says Lindsay Caudell, First/Second Grade Special Education Teacher, Jefferson Elementary.
And it’s not just sharing teachers a new facility would help resolve. There’s also the issue of a growing student body, and a lack of space.
“We’ve had to access shower rooms, we’ve had to access, you know, storage rooms for classrooms,” says Laura Caillouet-Weiner, Second Grade, Jefferson Elementary.
Sparks says while he did vote no last time, this time he and the entire steering committee plan to support the bond questions, because they born from compromise.
“What was amazing was we saw how far apart we were at the beginning, and to see us at the end with a solution that we were 100% in agreement on was truly an amazing process,” says Ryan Sparks.
We’ll have complete election results, including the bond questions in Iola, that evening right here on your local election headquarters.