Shawnee Heights Bond Issue - Boon Or Burden?

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A lot is at stake in the coming election and the Shawnee Heights School District wants to make sure people are not just paying attention to the choices at the top of ballot.

Voters in Unified School District 450 will decide a $17.5 million bond issue to improve school facilities this November 6.

An architectural audit inspected Shawnee Heights School District facilities top to bottom and found much in need of repair.

"It was an expensive list and one we realized we couldn't do out of simply our normal capital outlay," Shawnee Heights Superintendent Martin Stessman said.

Shawnee Heights' school board decided to put a bond issue up for a vote.

Stessman says 60 percent of the money will go toward needed maintenance, like replacing windows and roofs, and 40 percent is for new construction.

"The biggest enhancement will be the auditorium at the high school. Two other additional enhancements will be expansion of the cafeterias at Berryton Elementary and Shawnee Heights Elementary," Stessman said.

Stessman said the cafeterias are currently so overcrowded, school officials have to stack the lunch hours, with some students taking a mid-day break as early as 11:15 a.m.

A mailer will go out in the next few days, reminding voters the bond issue is on the ballot, though some locals have already made up their mind.

"I voted no on this because, if anything, it's going raise taxes and I do live in this area," Patti Valdivia, who cast her ballot as an advance voter, said.

The bond issue, if approved, would raise annual property taxes about $60 on a house valued at $100,000 house for 20 years, according to a USD 450 bond advisor.

It comes on the heels of a $25.8 million bond issue voters approved in 2004.

"It seems like every other year, they have a hike for improvement to the school," Valdivia said. "We don't have any children and grandchildren, so I don't see any benefit in that for us," she said.

"We did everything on that previous bond in '04 that we'd said we'd do and we did other things in addition," Stessman said. He said with aging buildings, now was the time to make those improvements.

"Construction cost right now will never be any cheaper. Interest rate will not be lower. I know the economy is not great, but if you look at the $17.5 million, a great deal of that will come right back to the community in terms of jobs," he said.

Good schools benefit local homeowners in the long run, Stessman added.

"At some point, they are going to want to sell their house. Their property values are directly co-related to the quality of the school system and the quality of the school system is directly co-related to the shape of the buildings," he said.

If the referendum passes, crews will immediately get to work. The district-wide project could take three years to complete