Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2000

Bloom’s legacy: Leading the battle for new high school

March 9, 2000

He built two schools, led the Eudora School District out of near financial ruin in the 1980s and ran the sixth-poorest district in the state more efficiently than most thought possible.

But some time in the last 17 years, Superintendent Dan Bloom said, the school board stopped listening to him. His recommendations often fell upon deaf ears and his plans for the continued growth of the school district were met with scrutiny.

"I just work here. They run things," Bloom said Tuesday, five days after submitting his letter of resignation to school board president Mark Chrislip. "Sometimes people stay together too long."

He said the handwriting was on the wall long ago. He stayed because there was work to be done projects and goals to accomplish.

But few projects came without a battle or two. Some of those battles became knock-down brawls, including the fight for the new high school that will ultimately be deemed Bloom's legacy.

It was late July about 10 years ago. A new school year would be starting in a few weeks, but maintenance workers, who noticed some bricks had fallen off the side of the building, called him to the high school building

Bloom called in a structural engineer, who confirmed the superintendent's worst nightmare: The building was unsafe.

"He told me there was no way he'd put students in there," Bloom recalled. "That was devastating. The new school year was starting in less than a month and we had to close off a wing of the school."

It served as a catalyst for Bloom to kick into high gear his plea for the city to pass a bond issue to build a new high school. Little did he realize the obstacles he would face. The community had a deep sentimental attachment to the existing building, even though it was falling apart.

Still, Bloom carried the banner for a new high school. He was the person out front the lightning rod.

"It was ugly from top to bottom," he said. "The name calling. The hatred. That will work on your psyche."

It got worse, Bloom said. On election night, members of the Eudora community gathered at the Douglas County Courthouse to await the results. Those in support of the bond issue stood on one side of the mezzanine and opponents gathered on the other.

The bond issue was defeated by 57 votes and as Bloom looked across the mezzanine, his defining moment came to the surface, crystal-clear.

"The issue lost by 57 votes, but not anyone in Eudora won on that night," he said. "Obviously, the people who wanted the new facility lost, but everyone else lost, too. It was a nasty, ugly feeling."

Bloom helped to get the bond issue passed in the next election. The new high school is a symbol of the new Eudora, but it too is on the verge of being outgrown. The thought of spearheading another bond issue was more than Bloom was willing to accept.

"I read some of the comments in the paper and my stomach starts to churn," he said. "My stomach doesn't churn easily. I figured it was time to let someone else take this on."

In 1998, he refinanced the high school, a move that knocked $1.2 million off the costs of the bonds and six years off the taxes.

He also built Eudora West Elementary School with the district's carryover funds.

"We built a grade school without putting a burden on the taxpayers," said Bloom, named the state's superintendent of the year in 1996. "It was my job to do it and we did it. The financial integrity of this school district is very, very solid."

Even members of the school board generally regard Bloom as a sound financial leader for the district.

"He was very good for the district financially and very good in construction of new buildings," said board member Kenny Massey. "There's a lot more to being a good superintendent than building some ground. There are a lot of other components that go into that."

Bloom admits he is a man who goes after what he wants. That often meant feelings being hurt.

"I am not patient and I am an aggressive man," he said. "If you throw a stupid idea at me, I'm liable to say it's a stupid idea."

In other words, it could have been an assortment of personality clashes that caused the school board to choose to take a different direction. Still, Bloom's biggest detractor, board member Carlie Abel, said personality conflicts should have played no part in Bloom's resignation.

"There were some personality problems with him and some board members, but that wasn't the case with me," Abel said. "To be quite honest with you, I've never voted to extend his contract. We just don't see eye to eye. He is overly strong when it comes to facilities and the funding for these items, but I felt we needed to take a 50-50 approach and look at both facilities and the kids."

Bloom, 51, said he hasn't decided if he will remain in education. However, the Lawrence Journal-World reported Wednesday that Bloom had interviewed for the superintendent's position in Hutchinson earlier this week.

"I've done a good job and this school district is a lot better off than when I showed up," he said.

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