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Fort Larned forms committee to research school bond issue
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LARNED — The Fort Larned USD 495 school board voted to form a committee to begin the process of proposing a school bond issue to the community, according to minutes from a recent board meeting.
Attending the meeting were June Barger, board president; Jay Haremza, Brenda Hagerman, Leroy Lyon, Jenny Manry, Sharon Lessard, Jon Flint, superintendent; Phil Martin, board attorney; and Tiffany Burris, clerk. Kevin Reece was absent.
Gary Sechrist, leadership services field specialist from the Kansas Association of School Boards, presented information from the recently held session with community members and district personnel to discuss the future of buildings in the district.
A four-hour session was held where attendees from Fort Larned USD 495 separated into groups to discuss areas of concern, which included student needs, curricular programming, district facilities, and personnel needs.
Some areas that were highlighted from discussions were student safety and providing an environment to provide less stress to students and personnel.
A question that continued to arise was whether needs at the high school would be addressed or was this session just being used to discuss elementary needs.
The panel was given three choices and asked to post in two of the areas that they felt would be the most beneficial.
The choices given were:
• 1 — Seek ways to enhance the current environments to meet student and staff needs;
• 2 — Continue with existing facilities or;
• 3 — Begin the process of preparing the community for a new bond issue.
After tallying posts, there were nine posts for Option 1; zero posts for Option 2, and 41 posts for Option 3.
Sechrist also passed out a handout outlining the key points that were discussed with each option.
The consensus of the panel was to move forward to prepare the community for a possible bond proposal.
The committee members that were present were introduced. Those in attendance were John Haas, Larned Mayor Bob Pivonka, Sharon Arnold, Mike Gilmore, Brent Hemken, Kista Holt and Deborah Lewis.
John Haas stood and spoke as a member of the committee.
Haas shared that, as a county commissioner, he and his fellow commissioners faced a similar task of choosing whether or not to propose building a new hospital. Their decision to move forward with new construction was one that not everyone in the community agreed with. He shared that due to the new hospital, a fourth physician for the community was recruited; and more people have began to use the facilities and staff available in Larned for their healthcare needs.
Haas stated that he feels for a community to be successful — good schools and good healthcare need to be available. He also felt that the teachers in the district should be applauded.
“They have made the best possible use of the resources that are available to them,” Haas said. “Unfortunately, these older buildings cannot be updated to stay in line with technology.”
 He feels that if the citizens of Larned and Pawnee County want to maintain the community, we need to step up and make a commitment. He shared that when he was a student of the Larned school district, the generation ahead of him provided him with proper facilities to reinforce his learning. He feels it is now his generation’s turn to provide this for the students today.
Deborah Lewis, a committee member, stated that all the members in her break out group felt that we could do better to provide a solid learning environment for our students.
She said that it had been eye opening for those in attendance at the meeting to tour the building and felt that all citizens should be encouraged to tour the buildings to see what staff and students deal with on a daily basis. She did feel getting a bond issue to pass was going to be an uphill battle due to the current tax climate in the city and county, but felt that educating the public over a period of time would be key to success.
Leroy Lyon, board member, stated that he, too, felt the district was facing an uphill battle.
He feels that more data should be compiled. He would like to know how much it costs to run three elementary buildings. He thinks knowing some of these facts will be helpful. He asked what is the cost to repair the existing buildings when compared to the price of new construction.
He also questioned whether busing in town would continue. He feels the board should have some answers to these questions before we try to proceed with a bond issue. The board will be selling the bond prospect to an aging community who feels that their taxes are high already. He stated that he felt if a bond issue were to go to vote right now, it would fail.
June Barger, board president, stated that she had recently attended a KASB convention and had spoke to members of other communities who had passed a bond issue in recent years and asked how they were successful.
Barger was told that having a large cross section of community involved is a key, even those that may not be for a bond. She stated that she feels that those who were in favor of the hospital will show up and will also be in favor of education. She also realizes that mistakes were made when the former bond issue was proposed.
Barger said the community needs to know how much is spent to maintain these older buildings each year. She feels that a strong education base in a community is key for its success. Without it, we will lose businesses and population. We want all ages in our community.
Brent Hemken, who also served on the planning committee, said that schools are a source of pride in a community. He questioned whether the building could serve multiple purposes for the community, such as fitness facilities. He also questioned whether the district could begin to participate in some sort of mentorship programs that would bring other generations into the buildings. He feels it is best to propose a building that the entire community would benefit from. He also stated that he felt like the voter turnout for the 2008 bond issue was poor and hopes that we will do more to get voters to the polls.
Lea Harding, USD 495 elementary principal, shared that the tornado shelters in each of buildings are not as safe as what new construction would provide. For example, Phinney students go to the hallways and Hillside students are evacuated to the bathrooms. She said the safety of students needs to be on the forefront of this decision.
Jenny Manry, board member, said the district should build off what the community did with the hospital.
“We need to build community support and really educate the public,” she said.
Barger thanked those who were in attendance. She asked whether another committee needed to be formed to move forward.
Jon Flint, Fort Larned USD 495 superintendent, said the initial committee needed to be included.
Jenny Manry moved to form a committee to begin the process of proposing a bond issue to the community. Sharon Lessard seconded the motion. The board passed the proposal 5-1 with Lyon abstaining.