Website formed at buildsouth.org
arents who live within the Platte County School District’s southern boundaries, who wish for a high school closer to home, say they see that dream dwindling as officials plan to re-construct the current high school in the present facility’s northern location.
The $73 million bond proposal would provide a phased re-build of the present high school with 280,000 square feet of new construction, including upgrades to other district buildings. The issue will appear on the Tuesday, April 6 ballot and requires a 57 percent approval.
The first phase, which would be funded by the bond proposal, includes the addition of 26 classrooms, a new auditorium, new-age learning classroom wings, updates to fine arts facilities, multi-purpose spaces, a two-story learning commons and new athletics complex.
The plan also calls for a new south-located middle school and improvements to existing Pathfinder Elementary and Barry, a fifth-through eighth-grade center.
Parents who want a high school in the southern part of the district said they are tired of continued promises of a second high school someday and worry about their teenagers driving more than 20 miles to attend school and extra-curricular activities.
Critics say if voters approve the bond proposal, the district will have the highest allowable debt given their bonding capacity, an amount determined by the district’s assessed valuation. The additional $73 million would make total district debt $150 million.
Kirby Holden, a vocal opponent of the district who operates a Facebook page and website, said during a Sunday telephone interview, that Platte County R-3’s debt-per-student ratio, when compared with other districts of comparable size, is much higher. Holden, who operates plattecountyr3facts.com, argues the district has a habit of over-spending. On the Platte County R-3 Facts.com Facebook page, he often compares district financials with those of other surrounding districts.
One opponent of the project who campaigned for passage of a bond issue in 2015 for high school upgrades said this proposal has caused her to re-think her support. Jennifer Bralley, parent of a sixth- and eighth grader, said she was a member of the district’s Long Range Task Force, a team of district officials and community members who plan for district growth by analyzing demographic data and other factors, said she struggles to make financial sense of the decision to gut the present high school facility and start over with a completely new structure.
She said the district’s plans perpetuate the feeling among many students and parents that district officials view the south side like a forgotten stepchild.
“It’s not that I don’t support my district, because I do,” Bralley said during a Monday telephone interview. “I’m just not in favor of this plan.”
A better option would be upgrades of the present facility, putting money away for a future high school in the southern portion of the district.
“Why don’t we save our resources and our money and do it right?” she said.
Bralley has joined a few dozen parents in forming the Build South Advocacy Group, which promotes their position for a high school on the south end via a Facebook page and a website at www.buildsouth.org.
In addition, she believes district employees feel pressured to support the plan, fearing any objections could lead to their dismissal.
“They feel their jobs are on the line,” Bralley said.
In order to have the enrollment to support an additional district high school without a levy increase, total high school enrollment would need to increase from current totals of about 1,400 to 1,600, said Jay Harris, executive director of operations for Platte County R-3.
Holden said that district officials are at a definite advantage when it comes to financing campaign strategies. Proponents have formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) to work toward passage of the issue and have spent several thousand dollars communicating the need for the bond issue.
Holden said he had a recent discussion with those who are opposed to the bond issue and told them they need to invest in signs, fliers, and a social media campaign to even have a slight chance of promoting their opposition.
“It’s not fair that parents should have to raise $30,000 to $40,000 to fight their own school district,” he said.
Libby Pierce, a parent of two students at Pathfinder Elementary, said she believes paying for a newly renovated high school is financially unfounded.
“For every single reason they give, there’s a cheaper method,” she said. She added that extending pass times from the current three minutes to five minutes and adding directional signs could ease overcrowding in hallways and allow students to change classes more easily.
Pierce said she’s talked with long-time area residents in the south end of the district who have said district officials have promised a high school in the southern area for more than 30 years.
South side residents were happy to hear about the middle school addition, but the positive feelings are tempered by a high school plan that constitutes what many in the southern area of the district consider over-spending.
“We’re finally getting what we need in a middle school, but they (north side residents) are getting a luxury. in the newly constructed school,” she said.