January 2, 2012

Derby to vote April 3 on $66.6 million bond issue for schools

Derby school officials say they’ve waited and studied long enough: The district needs a new middle school, a central kitchen, roof repairs and other improvements.

Derby school officials say they’ve waited and studied long enough: The district needs a new middle school, a central kitchen, roof repairs and other improvements.

Voters will decide in April on a $66.6 million bond issue to pay for the work.

“A number of our buildings are over 50 years old, and the classrooms … are much smaller than what contemporary needs require,” said Don Adkisson, director of finance for the district.

“We’re getting to the point where, with the age of those facilities, we are going to need to do something.”

The biggest project in the proposed bond issue – and a notable change for Derby families – is a new middle school, which would cost $32.5 million. Derby’s current middle school would get $11 million in renovations. Both schools would serve sixth through eighth grades.

For more than a dozen years Derby sixth-graders have had their own school. The proposed bond calls for demolishing the Sixth Grade Center and shifting to a traditional middle school system.

Adkisson, a member of the Process for Success group that developed the bond proposal, noted studies that show students perform better the less frequently they move to new schools.

“The fewer transitions between buildings, the better the students handle it,” he said. “That’s the main idea of going to the middle school concept.”

Projects on the April 3 bond ballot, Derby’s first since 1999, also include:

•  $6.6 million in renovations to elementary schools. Oaklawn Elementary would get a new multipurpose room and classrooms. Derby Hills, El Paso and Swaney would get new classrooms. All would get better secured entrances.
•  $6.3 million in roof repairs throughout the district.
•  $4.5 million in improvements to Derby High School, including new locker rooms, orchestra space and a lobby expansion.
•  $3.4 million for an expanded and upgraded central kitchen.

The district serves about 6,800 students from Derby, McConnell Air Force Base and parts of south Wichita.

The bond proposal comes as districts throughout the area have been slashing budgets and delaying capital projects because of reductions in state aid to schools.

The Wichita district, which passed a $370 million bond issue in 2008, has put dozens of projects on hold and is considering closing some schools. A new high school designed to relieve overcrowding at Heights High School may open as a magnet school instead, to save the district between $10 million and $12 million a year in operating expenses.

Adkisson said the proposed new middle school in Derby would not raise costs because the district would use existing staff and close the Sixth Grade Center.

Supporters are concerned, however, that proposed changes to the state’s school finance formula could do away with state funding that would pay nearly 20 percent of the bond’s cost. Voters are unlikely to know by the April 3 election whether the state funding will be cut, Adkisson said.

Passing a bond issue is “always a challenge,” he said, but Derby schools need the improvements and want to take advantage of low interest rates.

“This process … took 18 months of study,” he said.

“The fact that we’ve not been going out every couple of years (proposing a bond) we hope will help us. We’ve tried to make good use of the facilities we have, but it’s time to do something.”

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