USD 383 to vote on bond proposal for overcrowding, security issues

Several students and teachers came out to show their support for Yes 383 during the homecoming parade on October 12, 2018. Citizens in the Manhattan-Ogden school district will vote on a new bond on Tuesday. ( File photo by Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

The Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 school board proposed a $129,500,000 bond to be voted on on Tuesday by the school district, which includes portions of Riley, Geary and Pottawatomie counties.

Many elements in the proposal look to aid overcrowding and security issues in facilities. However, one section for building a new two-story wing at Manhattan High School has caused disagreement.

“We’ve had quite a bit of population growth in the district since the last bond issue was passed in 2008,” said school board member Leah Fliter.

Overall enrollment increased by more than one thousand students — 776 of those students are in the kindergarten through sixth grade population.

For Manhattan-Ogden school district residents, property taxes would increase if the bond passes. An average homeowner in Manhattan with their property assessed at $200,000 would pay an additional $179.33 annually.

Commercial properties are taxed a little differently, and Fliter said she hoped rental property landlords would not feel like they had to pass on a rent increase if the bond passed.

Longtime Manhattan resident Mark Knackendoffel said he helped prepare a previous bond proposal but decided to not campaign in favor of this one because he holds concerns about it.

Knackendoffel said he has struggled with his decision because he considers himself an advocate for the public schools.

“I would say my decision would probably be to vote against it, but it’s a very, very close decision,” he said. “I think they’ve tried to do too much with this bond issue.”

Much of Knackendoffel’s concern surrounds a new high school wing proposed in the bond, he said, because one wing was completed just a few years ago in 2012, costing $50 million.

For Manhattan High School alone, the Kansas State High School Activities Association shows its enrollment for the 2017-2018 year at 1,766 students. This placed the school in the middle of the 6A classification, which is the highest category in Kansas.

Currently, ninth grade students are located at 901 Poyntz Ave., east of Manhattan High School’s main campus at 2100 Poyntz Ave.

“If they are in marching band or chorus or want to take advance math or science or foreign language classes, they have to go up to the west campus up the hill for those classes,” Fliter said. “Every hour of the school day, we send a bus back and forth.”

The busing costs the district $100,000 a year.

Knackendoffel said, as a parent of multiple Manhattan High School graduates, he liked the current setup.

“My kids I think hardly ever had to be transported between the two campuses,” Knackendoffel said. “Maybe that is a bigger issue than what I realize, but that’s not the reason to spend $30 million.”

Emma Devane, junior in industrial engineering, graduated from Manhattan in 2016 and commented on both sides of the argument. She said she enjoyed her time at the east campus because many middle schools in the district entertain rivalries with one another.

“That’s the first time we all come together,” Devane said. “Because Manhattan High is so big, that’s a great year to meet people.”

Fliter said the distance between the two campuses hinders ninth graders from engaging in high school clubs and activities.

Devane, who was president of her Business Professionals of America chapter as a senior, agreed and wished ninth grade students could begin their engagement in clubs sooner.

“One thing that is really a predictor of success in high school is them getting involved right away,” Devane said.

The proposed wing would give the high school room for 2,200 students, and Fliter said it should last the district at least 20 years. If the bond passes, she estimated that complete renovations would take four to five years.

Devane said she foresees growth with the completion of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility north of K-State’s campus. She, however, wants the district to wait with expansions to its high school facilities.

“I think a whole new high school needs to be built, and they should stop adding onto this one,” Devane said.

For younger students, the bond’s passing would spur another major project: the construction of an additional elementary school in the Blue Township.

“There are more than 400 elementary-age kids that we bus over the Blue River every day to come into Manhattan proper,” Fliter said.

Many young families have moved into the area northeast of the city, and it is quickly growing.

“I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that a new school being built in the northeast part of the school district would make a lot of sense,” Knackendoffel said.

Multiple other factors, such as K-State and movement of military families in the district, influence USD 383’s large elementary student numbers.

“We tend to have a disproportionately large number of students in those early grades versus the rest of the school system,” Knackendoffel said. “You have graduate students that maybe have young kids that enter the primary and maybe preschool time period. They get their Ph.D., and then they move elsewhere.”

Elementary and middle schools would be another main focus for security efforts.

“Eugene Field Head Start, Frank [V.] Bergman Elementary, Susan B. Anthony Middle School, Dwight [D.] Eisenhower Middle School do not have the type of security entrances that we prefer for our schools.” Fliter said.”You basically can come in the front door and just kind of head down the hall. Unfortunately in today’s society that’s not a safe aspect in our schools.”

Improvements would allow staff to direct visitors through the school office for identification before they could enter the hallways. Knackendoffel said he also supports security improvements.

Several schools lack dedicated tornado shelters, and high wind shelters would serve as extra classroom space or assembly space if added. Also written into the bond is additional parking near elementary schools.

Fliter said details like these, including drainage improvement, aren’t very glamorous, but that’s what patrons asked for.

Another layer to the USD 383 bond is sports and physical education facility updates.

“We’re also wanting to construct some new tennis courts up at the high school,” Fliter said. “We can’t host any tournaments there. They’re in pretty bad shape. That’s a minor part of the renovations.”

Major parts of the bond include more parking space for the transportation department and moving MHS’s central kitchen to the east campus.

If the bond fails, there is no guarantee another will be proposed anytime soon.

“We can’t turn around and amend the bond issue right away, because the state approves each year an annual amount of bond issues that can be run by all the school districts in the state,” Fliter said.

There are 285 school districts in Kansas, and applications open on July 1 each year.

“If you have a lot of large bond issues at one time that people are proposing across the state, you run into applications that don’t get accepted,” Fliter said.

Knackendoffel encouraged students to gain a firm understanding on both sides of the vote, which includes issues, consequences and costs, in order to make a decision in the best interest of the school district’s communities.

Bailey Krouse, sophomore in life sciences, said she voted early to pass the bond.

“If they need to make those differences in schools, then they should have the money,” Krouse said. ”Taxpayers should contribute to that because education is important.”

Other students polled at K-State did not speak in detail about portions of the bond issue. Some did not realize what it contained or were unsure of their stance.