Eudora and Baldwin City school districts’ voters to decide on tens of millions of dollars in bond issues

photo by: USD 491

This concept image shows in red what one of the additions to Eudora's high school as part of the Eudora school district's upcoming bond issue could look like. The district is asking voters to approve nearly $40 million in bond projects in a special election next month.

As the Lawrence school district prepares to close two of its school buildings, two of Douglas County’s other public school districts seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

The Eudora and Baldwin City school districts are poised to ask voters to approve multimillion-dollar bond issues in an upcoming special election and, in part, both proposals call for the districts to add to their existing building spaces. Baldwin City is proposing more than $25 million in bond issue projects, and Eudora’s ask is even more substantial at nearly $40 million. Early voting starts this Wednesday.

Both districts’ superintendents told the Journal-World earlier this month that the bond projects weren’t intended to be a response to anticipated growth from the $4 billion, 4,000-job Panasonic battery plant coming to nearby De Soto. But that doesn’t mean the mega-factory’s looming effects aren’t at the top of mind.

Eudora superintendent Stu Moeckel, for example, acknowledged that there would definitely be growth in some form in the coming years, but that it was hard to know now when exactly it would begin to affect Eudora.

“What we know with our bond is these are things that we have talked about in the community for five years,” Moeckel said. “These are things that are needs and not wants. None of these things we’re talking about are based on the projections for Panasonic that we don’t know yet.”

“Are we going to see growth in five years?” he continued. “Are we going to see growth in 10 years? We know we are going to have growth in this area, but we cannot predict that, and since we can’t predict it, our board and then the committee that’s done the work on this believes that we are better off getting what we have right and fixing and updating what we currently have before we build something that we may not be in the right place or right position for.”

Baldwin City is expecting to benefit from some of that growth, too. Its superintendent, Mark Dodge, said it would be “premature” to make any decisions based on future growth, but the district does plan to conduct an enrollment study in November projecting how future enrollment may change based on a number of factors. Dodge said the feeling among Baldwin City leaders was that their community would also be a great place for new Panasonic plant workers to move to.

But a direct comparison between the Lawrence school district’s situation and what’s happening in Eudora or Baldwin City might best be described as “apples to oranges,” Moeckel said. That’s because districts like theirs aren’t operating under the same neighborhood school model that has Lawrence elementary-schoolers spread across 13 school buildings — or 11 of them come next academic year, after the school board’s recent decision to close Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementaries.

• • •

What projects will actually be funded by each bond issue? In Eudora, they fall into three broad categories: safety and security enhancements, facility additions and upgrades, and facilities and infrastructure. A full list of projects can be found here.

Some key projects from the list include additional classroom spaces at the elementary school; the addition of an auxiliary gymnasium at the high school, plus a building addition and expansion to the school’s athletic spaces; an upgraded and expanded elementary playground; and a remodel and upgrade of eight classrooms at the district’s West Resource Center to support early childhood programs.

photo by: USD 491

This image shows a floor plan for the Eudora school district’s West Resource Center, with the blue and green spaces denoting where bond issue improvements would change the building.

Beyond the big-ticket building expansion and addition items, many other projects on the list are intended to bolster safety and security and to replace facilities and infrastructure that have reached their end of life. Moeckel said the Eudora school district’s starting to see that happen at the middle and high schools, which were built within just a few years of one another and are both now in need of infrastructure updates. He said he sees the bond issue as a way to “re-invest” in education and keep those buildings a hub for local engagement.

“Our schools truly are the lifeblood of our community, and our community utilizes our buildings for not just community functions but also to come and support our students and our families,” Moeckel said.

Baldwin City’s projects have some similarities. They, too, are grouped into three areas of focus: educational improvements, safety and security, and outdoor learning and activities. A full list can be found here. Some key projects include a new career and technical education space; improvements to district parking lots and locker room facilities; and a large-scale renovation of the high school’s field and track.

photo by: USD 348

This mock-up image shows some of the proposed improvements to athletic facilities the Baldwin City school district hopes to implement as part of a $25 million bond issue.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The existing field where the Baldwin City school district wants to add athletic improvements as part of a suite of bond issue projects is pictured Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

And much like in Eudora, Dodge said some of the improvements on the table for Baldwin City’s schools are things that have been kicked down the road over time.

“Baldwin has been a great district and (has) been financially responsible with maintenance and upkeep of facilities,” Dodge said. “But what’s happened is as you defer those maintenance needs over time, they become needs that need to be addressed, whether that is to remedy safety and security needs that are there, to bring our (career and technical education) programming up to current needs, or whether it is to update our activity opportunities and outdoor learning space for students so that we can make sure what we’re doing is leveling the playing field for our students — resetting the deck, if you will — to address those deferred maintenance needs that have occurred.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

One of the Baldwin City school district’s shop classrooms is pictured. If voters approve the district’s bond issue, it’ll fund new career and technical education classroom space.

A key difference between the two bond issue questions is whether they will result in an increase to either school district’s tax rate. Eudora’s bond issue wouldn’t require increasing the district’s mill levy, but Baldwin City’s would. The district’s current mill levy — or the tax rate applied to the assessed value of a property — of 14.502 would increase nearly 3 mills to 17.402 if the bond issue passes.

A mill equals $1 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed property value — in Kansas, the assessed value of a residential property for taxing purposes is 11.5% of the property’s value. For a home with a market valuation of $200,000, for example, the assessed valuation would be $23,000, and the homeowner would owe about $334 annually in taxes to the Baldwin City school district under the current mill levy. If the bond issue were to pass, that amount would go up by about $70.

• • •

It’s been 16 years since Eudora voters last approved a bond issue, which Moeckel pointed to as one reason why the improvements are needed today. In 2007, about 55% of the vote was in favor of the bond question, good for 887 of the roughly 1,600 ballots cast. It’s been a similar amount of time since there’s been a bond proposal passed in Baldwin City, though the results of that 2008 election don’t seem to be included among the archives kept on the Douglas County Elections Office website.

How much public support is behind the two ballot measures remains to be seen. Both superintendents told the Journal-World they weren’t actively gauging public interest in their bond proposals and were instead focused on informing folks about them more broadly.

“From the school district, we have to stay on the informative side,” Dodge said. “I think there’s going to be individuals on both sides of the issue, and we just want to do our best to inform them of the facts that are involved with this bond issue so they can make the best decision.”

There are at least a couple of groups voicing public opposition against Baldwin City’s bond proposal, one of which is the Douglas County Republican Party. Party chair Brent Hoffman shared a letter with the Journal-World earlier this week that urges folks to vote no on the bond issue. One of the reasons for opposition in the letter is that much of the funding wouldn’t go to classroom spaces but instead toward the new stadium, locker rooms and parking improvements. School district information about the bond projects places the cost of just the new artificial turf field, bleachers, lighting and expanded track at just under $8 million.

“In light of recent double digit increases in the price of most consumer goods and the rising cost of property taxes and utilities, why would Baldwin City school leaders think it’s a good idea to propose a $25 million ‘sports bond’ that will financially strain school district residents even further?” Hoffman said in the letter.

There’s also a Facebook group, “USD 348 Patrons for Financial Responsibility,” voicing opposition to the bond issue. That group is focusing on the mill levy increase and still-existing debt for the district’s previous bond issue through 2027.

There doesn’t seem to be any organized opposition to the Eudora bond issue, but there is a Facebook page for supporters of it.

The special election will take place Tuesday, May 16. The last day to register to vote in this election is Tuesday, April 25. Advance voting begins the following day, April 26, and can be completed by mail or in person at the Douglas County Election Office, 711 W. 23rd St. in Lawrence. A full list of polling places in both communities for Election Day is available here.


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