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Archive for Saturday, November 2, 2002

DeSoto banking on bond issue

Similar situation may unfold as Lawrence district plans bond vote

November 2, 2002

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— Sharon Zoellner is rolling the dice a second time, and there's a lot on the line.

Hanging in the balance is a $76.7 million bond issue for DeSoto public schools to pay for construction of three elementary schools, a middle school, classroom technology upgrades and sports field improvements.

"We try to make sure all our schools are equitable," said Zoellner, deputy superintendent of the DeSoto district, about 10 miles east of Lawrence.

She's hoping to tip the scales a different way than they went in May, when voters of the state's fastest-growing district narrowly rejected a $91.2 million bond issue for school building improvements.

That mail-in balloting effort fell short by 125 votes. Only half the district's registered voters sent in ballots.

"That's a bit disconcerting to us," Zoellner said. "It went right to their door, and they choose not to vote."

In the new proposal, plans were scrapped for a fourth elementary school and construction of a district athletics facility.

It's the same kind of give-and-take that could unfold in the Lawrence school district, which is formulating a school bond issue.

The Lawrence school board has tinkered with a bond issue of $50 million to $63 million to build a new junior high and alternative high school, as well as renovate two elementary schools and Lawrence High School.

A bond vote in Lawrence is expected to occur in 2003.

If that fails controversy about the planned closure of East Heights, Riverside and Centennial schools make that a possibility the district and its consultants also would have to go back to the drawing board.

Zoellner said the time was right to adopt a bond issue in DeSoto.

Her district needs more classroom space to grapple with projected enrollment growth of 300 to 400 students a year through 2006, she said. The 4,100-student district has four elementary schools.

Each new elementary building would cost $13 million and be built to serve no more than 550 students.

"Our board has committed to keeping them at a maximum of 550," Zoellner said.

Construction would be completed in four phases, depending on actual enrollment.

Other key issues:

l Interest rates Rates are near their lowest levels in 30 years. The estimate for DeSoto's 20-year bonds is 5.5 percent.

l State aid A state program offers extra aid to some districts that approve capital improvements with a bond issue. DeSoto is eligible for 9 percent in additional state payments.

l Tax impact When all the bonds are issued, possibly in 2006, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $10.93 per month more in school taxes.

Zoellner said she was uncertain of Tuesday's outcome. After the bond rejection in May, she said, supporters of that bond issue told her they didn't vote because they had expected it to be easily approved.

"The difference was 125 votes," she said. "If just 63 had voted differently."

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