Archive for Wednesday, March 7, 2001

School board eyes building options

March 7, 2001

The Baldwin School Board held a special meeting Monday evening. This was a work session open to school administrators and district patrons to discuss issues critical to the school district. The majority of the evening focused on the components of a strategic plan document, followed by a presentation on district building needs by Bill Woodhouse of Frangkiser & Hutchens, architectural consultants.

Woodhouse, from the architectural firm of Frangkiser & Hutchens, presented a suggested 10-year master plan to the board. He recommended a bond issue for the fall of 2001 in the amount of $7.8 million. This would cover $6 million to construct a new pre-kindergarten to grade 2 for 350 students and $1.8 million for junior high science classrooms, including a new administrative area relocated outside the current building, and a refocused school entrance and bus lane.

Other projects would be funded directly from the budget: $90,000 to acquire a building site for the new pre-K through 2 building; $284,000 for a new no-frills metal building for wrestling practice at the high school; and $40,000 for a 1,000 square-foot metal storage building at Marion Springs.

This master plan calls for another bond issue in the fall of 2006. It would cover $590,000 for an addition to the Vinland Elementary school when enrollment reaches 125 (a music room, art room, two class rooms, and nurse's office) and $4,033,000 to construct a new performing arts center at the high school (seating 650).

Finally, the proposed master plan calls for a third bond issue in fall 2010 for $10,350,000. This would be for a new middle school when the high school and junior high enrollment reaches 900.

"I'm excited to have something on paper," said Ed Schulte, board president. "This is the first step for us in creating a well-thought-out plan and a direction for the district. That means there's still lots more work ahead."

Woodhouse told the group his figures were conservative at this point. He explained that his estimates included 130 square feet per student at $100 per square foot, with this cost inflated by 3.5 percent a year over the 10-year span of the master plan.

Under the guidance of Carolyn Groves, curriculum director for K-12, an administrative team with the input of parents and patrons, has been working on producing a strategic plan, which was the main focus of discussion for the evening.

Supt. James White said the board feels strongly about the mission statement for the district: "to teach with purpose and passion." Five on-going goals for the district include providing equitable learning opportunities, developing a relevant curriculum aligned with state standards and district philosophies, learning to effectively communicate within the district, meeting facility needs of the district, and prioritizing the use of district resources.

He described the nine Belief Statements in the strategic plan as "the foundation of our meeting tonight. We think these are a good set of beliefs, but there probably could be others."

Belief statements discussed during the work session included:

All students are entitled to learn in a safe environment.

Successful schools include highly qualified board members, administrators, teachers and support personnel.

Responsible investment of time, money, and resources is essential to educational success.

Appropriate class size maximizes learning.

If the strategic plan committee had one issue that was most important it was class size. Many felt that that one issue affected academics most. The majority of administrators present at the work session also pointed out that safety was a prime issue.

Bill Scott, principal at Vinland Elementary, said that safety is a big issue not only at Vinland but also at Marion Springs due to the isolation of these sites. One of the things Vinland has done is to secure classroom doors; teachers can lock them from the inside so intruders can't enter.

Connie Wright, Baldwin Junior High School principal, said that given the recent news of another school shooting in California, the students are talking a lot.

"That becomes a challenge as to how much is serious talk, how much we need to deal with," Wright said. "We constantly have to listen to make sure we have accurate information."

The Baldwin High School Student Council has discussed the idea of putting cameras inside and outside the school

Tom Mundinger, principal at Baldwin Elementary, said that the elementary school is so spread out, so old, and has so many entrances, that even when doors are locked a determined individual could gain access. This is compounded by the number of elementary students, staff members and Baker students coming and going.

"I don't think I have a staff member who could name (or identify) all the other staff in the building," Mundinger said. "From a safety standpoint, you don't know who's an intruder."

With 24-25 students per class at Baldwin Elementary, he said, to equalize the pupil-teacher ratio would take hiring six additional teachers. And then there would still be a higher pupil-teacher ratio than at Marion Springs. Hiring only three additional teachers would still leave a higher pupil-teacher ratio than at Vinland.

"I'm not pointing fingers at anybody," Mundinger said. "You're asking what we deal with; that's an issue for us."

Given the way the community is expanding, board member Roger Arnold agreed that class size and building size are "the most immediate things we have to deal with."

Supt. White mentioned that the Speaker of the Kansas House and the Governor have been talking about mandating a class size of 17 by state law.

Schulte said the challenge for the board is providing resources in areas that are going to have the most bang.

"We recognize we can't have everything, and I certainly put my money on good teachers in a large classroom in an old school as opposed to a new school, but we can also provide a whole lot more as we're looking at expanding and make sure we've got the resources there so they can go above and beyond and meet those needs we're looking for," said Schulte.

Board members identified complaints coming from the community from utility price hikes and tax increases to adding new buildings. Yet at the same time the people are telling board members "tell us what to do and we'll make the necessary sacrifices."

For Groves, the high cost of text books makes the responsible use of resources a hot issue. A new algebra book for next year will cost $49.95, she explained, a physics book $60, geography $40.

Parents in the audience said they want more information. "Show me what works," said one parent. "Don't be reluctant to put a plan out there," said another.

The five strategies of the USD 348 Strategic Plan include the following:

We will develop programs to increase graduation rate.

We will provide curriculum and instruction to maximize student success.

We will develop and implement a capital improvement plan to provide adequate facilities and support for instructional programs.

We will create a safe, caring, and intellectually stimulating environment for all of our students.

We will implement a plan for the recruitment and retention of the very best teachers (including a mentoring program).

The board also heard about a grant the school district is seeking for the 21st Century Community Learning Center. Project LEARN (Learning Assistance-Enrichment Opportunities-Adult Education-Recreation-Nutrition and Wellness) will allow the district to implement after-school programs that provide safe, nurturing learning environments for students.

These programs which serve students and adults in each school community require the cooperation of community partners. In Baldwin, this includes the Baldwin City Coalition, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Vintage Park, the Methodist Church, law enforcement, and other groups.

This program comes in response to community needs, such as the increase in juvenile court filings in the county and a drop in the number of students graduating from the district. A 1998 community survey indicated that 90 percent of elementary parents requested after-school assistance for their children. In addition, the need for adult services is expanding in the community.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, March 12 in the district office and will seek comments on the long-range plan as well as discussion on problems the district needs to tackle for next fall and what solutions to implement.

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