|Responding to community suggestions made during the city of Joplin's long range planning process and based upon the results of a phone survey of patrons regarding elementary school concerns, for the past 13 months, a committee has been working to lay the groundwork for the completion of a long-range facilities plan with a focus on Joplin's aging elementary schools, 13 of which range widely in age and quality of construction. Careful consideration had to be given to other district issues such as size of enrollment and on-going costs associated with school maintenance. Specific to the planning process was the concern that based upon age an inequality between schools had to be addressed. Yesterday (Jan. 11, 2011) the committee turned their 39-page report over to the Joplin Schools Board of Education.
Straying from what they considered "conventional wisdom" that would be to build schools in the newer parts of the community that have seen growth, the committee has chosen to reinvest in the economically depressed areas in order, they have concluded, "to stimulate growth and reestablish a sense of pride." Their focus was on "school equality for all kids."
Based upon this rationale the committee's conclusion, therefore, was the creation of new schools for the Columbia, West Central, Emerson, Irving and Duenweg school districts as well as relocation of the Duquesne school. Other suggestions would be to renovate the gym at McKinley and create a walkway access to it, add a gymnasium to Eastmoreland School, add a classroom and new cafeteria/gymnasium to Royal Heights and Kelsey Norman, renovate the Memorial Education Center and expand Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center. They also see the possibility of the Old South Middle School as a transition school during construction periods and the leveling of the abandoned Washington School.
An additional factor for renovation or replacement of a number of schools built between 1927 and 1931, they report, is the need to provide space for a bludgeoning number of services, including occupational/physical therapy, speech, counseling, nursing, psychology and nutrition services that are now provided for students.
Last month several key factors were enumerated. They include not redrawing attendance boundaries to solve space issues at elementary buildings or the high school and avoidance of mobile classrooms to solve space issues. In terms of funding they have estimated that to maintain existing schools with no new construction would cost the taxpayers approximately $16 million, and this does not address inequity issues, current overcrowding, elimination of trailers, addressing accessibility (one school could use an elevator) or accommodating future growth.
They report that the district has roughly $67 million in bonding capacity to address the majority of the school needs that have been outlined. It should be noted that the same phone survey that voiced strong support in completion of the projects, also showed less enthusiasm for an increase in the current debt service levy. The attitude was "give me a piece of the pie...but no, don't raise my taxes."
However, citing that interest on bonds was at a all-time low and that construction costs would only increase in the future, the committee has recommended that all needs be addressed at the same time rather than as "a phase-in approach." They also believe that a no-tax-increase bond issue approach to school improvement would take well over 30 years to accomplish.
Joplin Schools Board of Education President Randy Steele expressed his appreciation for the committee’s work. “I know they have been working hard for more than a year researching the challenges and possibilities surrounding our elementary school facilities," he said. "They did a fantastic job and have really helped lay the groundwork to engage the community in developing a plan to solve these challenging problems.”
...And engage the community in how to provide funding for the committee's conclusions will indeed be the board's greatest challenge.
Committee members included Paul Barr, Brad Beecher, Troy Bolander, Dennis Burns, Steven Byrd, Melinda Campbell, Barbara Cox, Doug Domer, Brandon Eggleston, Chris Erisman, Jeff Flowers, Scott Hoegh, Mike Johnson, Mike Landis, Denise Legore, Shirley Lewis, Steve Reed, Spencer Saterlee, John Snider, Logan Stanley and Denny White.