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School bond
Safety is still a concern
Life on the Ark.jpg

Last week a junior at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., walked into his school on his birthday, pulled a .45-caliber pistol from his backpack and started shooting classmates. Two were killed and three more were wounded and then the shooter used his last bullet to shoot himself. He died the following afternoon.

The school had taken pro-active steps that may have saved lives. Students and teachers had received active shooter training. Short of metal detectors and searches at the door, it’s hard to envision any safety measures that could have kept the shooter from entering the building.

Another school safety issue is the lack of tornado shelters. On May 20, 2013, a tornado hit Moore, Okla., at 2:45 p.m., resulting in seven fatalities as the school.

School safety and security were at the top of the list when Great Bend USD 428 tried unsuccessfully this year to pass bond issues totaling almost $45 million. Superintendent Khris Thexton says the district may offer voters another bond proposal in the spring. Supporters know that they may have to scale back the scope of school improvements but they also believe they can do a better job of explaining the need.

Based on information provided by the school district for the past bond election, $11.67 million of the total would have gone for safety and security. That included adding 10 storm shelters; changing the main entrances in all school buildings to make them more secure; adding “intruder hardware” to over 300 classroom doors across eight school buildings; and rerouting traffic to solve drop-off and pick-up safety issues at three elementary buildings and at Great Bend Middle School.

A similar amount would have been spent on “renovations and life cycle improvements.”

Slightly more – about $12.1 million – would have gone to add free preschools at every elementary school and move the sixth graders to a new wing at GBMS. This portion of the proposal appears to have been less popular.

Here are some suggestions for scaling back a bit on the next bond request:

Now that all schools have cameras at the main entrances and visitors have to be “buzzed in” to have the door unlocked, we believe that new entrances may not be needed at every school. More training may be in order, but that is a budget item outside of a bond issue.

The renovations and life cycle improvements surely had a few “extras” tucked inside it. If not, this is, indeed, an area where the school district should educate the public. One item that was on the list and not popular was to “install all-weather field and standard practice field, (and) dedicated bleachers for GBMS.”

Offering free preschools at all five elementary schools would require a new building for sixth graders, and new preschool playgrounds at the elementary schools. And, although it was optional, the district wanted another $3.1 million for another GBMS gym. For voters to support this level of change and spending, we’d like to know more about the need for preschools and the benefits of moving sixth graders.

There are still more pieces to the puzzle: what to do with the 100-year-old portion of the Washington Early Education Center, what to do about the need for a bus barn and a new transportation and maintenance building, and what to do about renovations needed at Great Bend High School.

No doubt there are items that can be trimmed from the proposal. There are also things that maybe should have been added. Moving ahead, we hope the school district can find the happy median that taxpayers will support. Putting off all major improvements for too long would be a mistake.