Derby set to vote Tuesday on bond issue for schools

Derby school district residents will vote Tuesday on whether to approve a $66.6 million bond issue to build a new middle school and central kitchen and repair existing schools.

“We have a lot of catching up to do,” said Larry Gould, co-chairman of a citizens group advocating for the bond.

The bond issue – Derby’s first since 1999 – is “so reasonable, and it’s so needed,” Gould said.

Plans call for a new $32.5 million middle school and $11 million worth of renovations to the district’s current middle school. 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, which includes several portable classrooms, and shifting to a traditional middle school structure with two middle schools.

The bond issue would increase the district’s mill levy by 3.4 mills, which translates to about $39 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Pro-bond buttons say simply “$3.26,” the amount the owner of a $100,000 home would pay per month in additional taxes for the bond issue.

“It’s basically a gallon of milk,” said Gould, a former Derby school board member.

Other proposed bond issue projects 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; all additions would double as storm shelters.

•  $6.3 million in roof repairs throughout the district.

•  $4.5 million in improvements to Derby High School, including new locker rooms, expanded kitchen and serving areas, orchestra space and a lobby expansion.

•  $3.4 million for an expanded and upgraded central kitchen that could prepare 6,000 meals daily. The district’s current kitchen was designed to serve about 2,000 meals a day and is “cramped beyond belief,” Gould said.

The bond election 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 closed five schools in order to open and operate five new ones and has put dozens of bond projects on hold. That prompted criticism from many who say the district reneged on promises supporters made during the bond campaign.

Gould said the language on Tuesday’s ballot in Derby mentions nine specific, narrowly defined projects rather than general construction, repairs and upgrades.

“We’re not asking for a pot full of money and then we’ll let you know where we spend it,” Gould said. “We’re saying, ‘This is exactly where it’s going to go.’ ”

About 1,000 green “Vote Yes” signs have popped up in yards and along roadways throughout the Derby district, but so far there seems to be no organized opposition to the bond issue.

“If there is, we don’t know about them,” Gould said.

He said supporters are excited and optimistic, and they’re planning a victory party at Derby High School on Tuesday evening.

But, “We also are running hard until we cross the finish line,” he said. “Everyone knows how important this is for kids and for the community.”