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At odds at R-3

by Stephanie Eaton
Landmark reporter

The school superintendent and Platte County R-3 Board of Education officials are at odds with a member of the school board's Citizen Advisory Committee over issues dealing with the school system's growth.

In last week’s edition of The Landmark, Kirby Holden, a man who is running for a seat on the Platte County R-3 school board and a member of the school system's Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), wrote a letter to the editor saying school district leaders had provided the CAC committee with an outdated enrollment study. The older enrollment study, which was from 2010, provided the committee with a higher projected student enrollment than a study completed in 2013.

“I want to point out the 16-member committee was given the ‘old’ 2010 enrollment study number to work with,” Holden said in his letter “This would not be a big deal, but the difference between the high numbers in this study compared to the low numbers of the 2013 study just completed are around 1200 students lower. That's right, 1200 or about 50 classrooms lower by 2018.”

On Feb. 1, The Landmark contacted Platte County R-3 School Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik to request an interview to see if he had a response to the concerns raised by Holden.

Reik did not respond with an interview but responded to newspaper officials by stating that he and Gary Brown, a member of the Platte County R-3 School Board and a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee, would be formulating a letter in response to the information presented by Holden.

“The general assertion in (Holden’s) letter suggests information is being manipulated and/or withheld by district leadership in an attempt to fool members of the public,” the letter written by Reik and Brown said. “In reality, the public has been routinely presented with the most current and best information available to the district. The Citizen's Advisory Committee is no exception.”

In the letter written by Brown and Reik, they said there was not a lot of difference between the 2010 and 2013 studies.

“When considering the projections in 2010 or 2013, the implications are relatively consistent: continued growth and overcrowding.”

Holden said he disagrees with the statement that the study results are consistent. He said during the mid-2000s, the school district saw tremendous growth. However, he said since 2008 housing has dropped off drastically. He said while the southern portion of the school district is seeing growth, the growth in the northern portion of the county has slowed down considerably. He said the 2013 study recognized the decrease in growth while the 2010 study did not.

School officials also responded to this statement.

“Growth and capacity, which appear on the surface to be substantially more concerning at Barry and Pathfinder, can be misleading if you ignore our community created a Long Range Plan,” Reik and Brown wrote. “The LRP calls for the closure of Rising Star and the eventual annexation of Paxton School by Platte County High School which removes space for almost 600 students at the elementary level. Consequently, capacity is concerning at both ends of the district at the elementary level if we intend on addressing overcrowding at PCHS in the coming years. You may also recall that a boundary line study is intended to follow an election to maximize the use of all facilities. Our Long Range Plan was created by community members from North and South and is designated to take care of all kids throughout the district.”

However, Holden said facts do not show that the county will be facing as much growth as originally predicted. According to Holden, RSP and Associates, the company that did the most recent enrollment projections actually said there will be 800 fewer students in the district in 2018 than what the 2010 study projected.

Holden, who runs a website known as plattecountyr3facts.com, this week also addressed growth issues facing Pathfinder and Rising Star.

“Enrollment at Rising Star is at its lowest level in four years. It has a capacity of 210 students and last year had only 166 students. I have been informed that Pathfinder was over their projection so it appears they miss both directions. From 2012 to 2013 school year, eight of the 12 grades had lower enrollment,” Holden said.

“2nd, 4th, 6th 8th and 10th grades were all up,” he said, but “K, 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th 11th and 12th were all down in enrollment.”

Holden said 420 students were new in 2012-13, while 452 students left the district.

“This information came from the RSP report given to the district,” he explained.

In his letter to the editor, Holden also said district leaders had given CAC members lower capacity numbers for each school.

“The information presented to the CAC and the board by administration showed lower capacity numbers than what was listed in the studies,” Holden wrote.

School officials did not necessarily disagree with Holden, but said school officials know how the buildings are being used.

“Our reported capacity numbers did, in fact, change after determining a scientific method was needed to calculate and report capacity,” Brown and Reik wrote. “Prior to this, district leadership used numbers that were provided by past administrations. It should be noted, that through this process some buildings increased capacity and some decreased capacity. Overall net capacity increased as a result of this process…hardly an effective strategy for overstating need. More importantly, we know how our buildings are being used and that, above all tells us that overcrowding must be addressed.”

Brown and Reik said while they are more than happy to address concerns of residents, they do not plan on responding to residents through the media.

“While we are happy to provide a response for The Landmark as requested, we have no intentions of making it common practice to speak with a patron though local media. We welcome patrons to contact district leadership with questions and/or concerns. We have policies and procedures in place to assure patrons are able to seek answers to their questions. We take great pride in serving the public and look forward to speaking with caring community members.”

Holden said his letter in the newspaper was not the first time he had spoken to school officials about his grievances. Holden said he addressed the board during the public portion of the November school board meeting

“I spoke during the school board meeting,” Holden said. “No one ever got back to me.”

Holden also said he also expressed his concerns during the CAC meetings. He said while committee members were very cordial, the committee is not a good representation of the community. He said the 16-member committee consists of primarily former educators and school administrators. He accuses the committee of also being made up of primarily people who are in favor of the new school levy.

“It is a lopsided group of people,” Holden said.

Holden said during the CAC meetings, members do not have a lot of opportunity for discussion. He said school officials typically tell the committee what the school system currently has and what the school system is planning to do.

“It's their way or the highway,” Holden said.

Holden also accuses the current school board of running in a similar fashion.

“Our school board all votes the same,” Holden said.

According to Holden, the current school board does not vote against anything Reik proposes. Holden said while school officials are hoping to bring the tax levy to a vote during 2015, the community has made it clear they do not want the tax increase during the 2012 elections and during recent surveys.

He said these are just a few of the reasons that he decided to run for a position on the school board.

“Someone needs to get our spending in check and our academics in order,” Holden remarked.