District aims to educate voters on bond issue

A new Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center is the largest item on the Baldwin School District's $22.9 million bond issue. Enlarge photo

August 28, 2008

With election day just two months away and a bond issue vote looming, Baldwin City's Amy Cleavinger has stepped to lead the steering committee for the "yes" vote.

Cleavinger, a school district patron and Baldwin City Council president, is heading the Vote Kids First committee. It consists of around 25 to 30 district patrons and staff members.

After being on the district's facilities' committee for the duration last year, Cleavinger was happy to lead the new committee.

"I was asked to head the committee and I agreed," Cleavinger said. "I have been involved with this since the beginning, so I understand all of the issues. We are in the early stages right now, just trying to get organized. We are ahead of the game right now and I've had great response from people wanting to jump on and help us."

Although there are district personnel on the Vote Kids First committee, those staff members aren't allowed to sway voters' opinions while working.

"The school district's responsibility is to inform the public," Supt. Paul Dorathy said. "The staff members, while on duty, may only inform. They are not to sway voters' opinions."

The committee is meeting weekly and is trying to gradually build up its strength for the November election, according to Cleavinger. She said the primary goal right now is just getting the information out to the public and explaining the bond issue.

"The biggest thing is making sure people understand what is being proposed and why we need it," Cleavinger said. "That's our biggest challenge right now because many people still don't fully understand why we need what is being proposed. We want to help them understand the issue.

"I know there will still be people that won't agree and will vote no and I respect that, but I want everyone to understand the issue," she said. "We just need to make sure everyone knows the issues at hand."

A couple of issues that patrons might not know about is the additional state funding for new facilities and the state's funding for the bond issue itself. Dorathy wanted to make sure those were fully explained to voters.

"For two years, you take the FTE (full-time equivalent) of the students who are in those new facilities, then take 25 percent of the FTE and multiply it times the state's base aid per pupil," Dorathy said. "It's supposed to help us adjust to the change or to help us out with furniture or added equipment. Once we move into those facilities, we get that aid for two years. That also includes additions to buildings.

"The other thing you have to remember is the state is going to give 27 percent of that money," he said. "It's still tax dollars, but it's tax dollars that are going to Topeka no matter what and will come back to our district instead of others around the state. It is not an additional tax."

The $22.9 million bond issue includes a new 480-student Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center and early childhood center. That building would include the approximately 260 BESPC students, the 4-year-old program students, Parents as Teachers organization and possibly Rainbow Experience Preschool.

Also included on the committee's recommendation was a new performing arts center. It would be around 10,000 square feet and would seat between 550-600 people.

Other items were the baseball and softball fields, practice track facility and technology and security needs. The last items were renovations to Baldwin Junior High School. Those renovations include a new roof, heating and cooling system and corridor renovations.

"We can't afford to wait any longer, especially with the condition of the primary center," Cleavinger said. "The junior high has issues, too. If you drive by the PC or auditorium, they may look fine, but on the inside they have issues. The cost of waiting any longer is far greater than doing it now. I know it's a difficult time right now, but it's a reality."

She also said that Baldwin needs to improve its facilities if it wants to compete with surrounding districts.

"If we want to thrive and continue to grow, we've got to compete with the communities around us when it comes to facilities," Cleavinger said. "Right now, we aren't doing that."

Bond issue brochures can be picked up at the district office or any of the schools. There is also information on the Web site, that has a question and answer section for the bond issue. Informational boards will also be on display this fall at district activities.

"They are in each of the buildings and I believe the recreation commission has one," Dorathy said. "The public will see those at all of our home activities this fall. We're just trying to inform the public of what's on the bond issue."

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