Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Demographer’s numbers called ‘shocking’

July 5, 2007

If projections are correct, the two rural Baldwin School District buildings will remain open.

After the facilities' committee meeting in June, the demographer reported the district would save approximately $290,000 by closing Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools.

"I am glad that we have accurate data now," said Ande Parks, school board member and facilities' committee member. "In my opinion those schools are worth that much to the community. I can't speak for the rest of the board, though."

Robert S. Schwarz with RSP of Olathe, reported the numbers at the meeting. Supt. Paul Dorathy said the committee decided that amount of money wouldn't justify closing the two rural schools.

"In their cost study, they showed about $290,000 savings," Dorathy said. "That is only about 1.9 percent of our entire budget. Their feeling after some discussion amongst the group is they're not sure that's enough savings to close those down and with future needs of this district, that might not be the best way to handle this."

Dorathy understands everyone might not agree, but for now those savings aren't enough to shut down the buildings.

"I'm sure there is debate on that," Dorathy said. "That is what came out of that, looking at the specific numbers and what it's showing. In some ways, that does not justify the turmoil and the changes it would cause in the district to make that happen."

Schwarz made one announcement that shocked the committee. He predicts the district's enrollment will decline over the next five years. The decreasing numbers also mean the district won't need a new building because of over crowding, according to Schwarz.

He predicts the district's enrollment will decrease by about 30 students in the next five years and by 70 students in 10 years. Dorathy said Schwarz is confident with his five-year estimate, but after that his predictions aren't so close.

The prediction of declining enrollment shocked Parks.

"I was surprised, because I think everybody thought we would continue to see modest growth as we have in the past," Parks said. "Now that kind of shifts the discussion from are we going to have enough classroom space to how do we make our facilities as good as we want them to be."

Dorathy said Schwarz did take the Gardner Intermodal project into consideration. The Intermodal is a transportation center for goods to be brought in by railroad and taken elsewhere by trucks. It is predicted to bring 13,000 jobs to the Gardner area.

Schwarz said the effect of the project will lie entirely upon whether or not Baldwin City is ready for growth.

"He's not predicting that we're going to have this influx," Dorathy said. "Now he talked about a scenario that would increase our enrollment. He said a lot of that has to do with what happens with the Intermodal.

"He said that will be completely controlled by how well Baldwin City is prepared for that increase of population," Dorathy said. "If infrastructure and housing developments are not in place to deal with those new people, we won't get the growth. At this point, he's not sure we have that in place in order to promote that growth. He says the Intermodal may not have as much affect as people think it might."

Dorathy also said the demographer reported the Baldwin district won't need any new buildings because of growth. His suggestion was to look at the quality of the buildings and how they can be improved.

"He said there would not need to be a justification for new buildings based on enrollment numbers," Dorathy said. "He said that it might be more quality of educational space, than quantity of space to meet number needs."

Parks said one discussion that will continue at the meetings will be the future of the district's oldest building, Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center.

"In my opinion, the primary center is one of those buildings that isn't as good as we want it to be," Parks said. "Now we need to figure out if we can renovate it or do we need to construct a new building."

When asked about the idea of constructing a new auditorium, Dorathy said the committee hasn't recently discussed it, but it's one of several items that may be talked about at future meetings.

"That piece has not been brought up in the last couple of meetings," Dorathy said. "I think the auditorium, ball fields, technology and the primary center are all on the table. I don't think any of those are dead issues. All of those are issues that need to be discussed.

"It is also still being discussed whether there will be a bond issue in the near future or if it may be a few years down the road," Dorathy said. "I think all of that is on the table to be discussed."

The facilities' committee will now be looking at the quality of the district's buildings. The outcome of the meetings is unknown, but Dorathy is pleased the school board will now have solid numbers to work from.

"The good thing about this is for the meantime we have some good solid numbers from the demographer and the architect to work from," Dorathy said. "I'm not sure they've always had that in the past. I think there are still needs out there, but it's deciding what those might be and whether it's something that we ask the public to vote yes or no on."

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