USD 491 decides not to put stadium issue to voters
To put USD 491's $2.5 million lease-purchase of a stadium south of Kansas Highway 10 to a referendum, citizens needed a protest petition with 88 signatures.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew officially endorsed such a petition last week that garnered 110 officially recognized names.
With the possibility of a referendum looming, the district's Board of Education decided during its Nov. 10 meeting to let the resolution sit and not have special election.
The decision came as members glanced over the signatures on the petition and weighed options of what to do with the proposal.
In the end, the board decided to refrain from putting the proposal to a vote and focused on fixing what they saw as a main flaw ---- a general lack of education on the lease-purchase issue.
Superintendent Marty Kobza suggested the board start an open dialogue with the community to clear up misconceptions about the proposal.
The board will ask citizens to consider how to best spend the taxpayers' money and keep students safe.
"To me it's important we give them an invitation to find out the facts," Kobza said.
Before deciding to put brakes on the project, Kobza lined out other options for the board.
One option would have brought the lease-purchase agreement to a vote.
To do so, the district would have had to pay $3,200 in fees to facilitate the action and work with the county's schedule.
Because the vote would have been scheduled for either Dec.6 or Dec. 13, the board realized it would be hard to fully educate people in time.
"My opinion, I think you're working on a very short timeline," Kobza said.
Among the alternatives to a referendum the board considered were waiting to accumulate the money needed for the project, building a track before the lease-purchase of the stadium, going with a bond issue, and exploring the renovation of Laws Field.
Another factor helped sway the board away from the vote.
The board realized the relative difficulty of passing money for recreation facilities, such as the city's attempts to approve money for a new swimming pool.
"I hope you do a better job selling it than the city did the swimming pool," board member Kenneth Massey said.
After hearing the available options, the board went back through the history of the stadium proposal and how it sprang from a problem-solving retreat several years ago.
The board discussed at one point about building just a track and later adding the stadium around it, renovating Laws Field and eventually settling on the lease-purchase as the most feasible option.
"I think at this point it doesn't hurt you to take a step back, receive input, and consider all your options again," Kobza said. "I'm telling you my recommendation is don't abandon it."
That statement seemed to be echoed within the board.
"There's no doubt in my mind some day we'll have a new stadium," board member Joe Pyle said.
As discussion progressed, Jim Martin, the board's newest member, asked for clarification on the safety issue driving the need for the new stadium.
The issue came to forefront several years ago when two girls in the Blue Valley school district were killed in an accident while driving to a practice.
Since then the district has tried to find ways to keep students out of danger when crossing the Kansas Highway 10 overpass to prevent a similar tragedy.
"I always hear the safety part, but it's never details to me, so I don't think people are aware of the issues, the specific issues, " Martin said.
Earlier in the night, the board discussed local attachment to Laws Field.
Pyle said people discussed it with him as he watched youth football games or shopped at the grocery store.
"It's not so much an economic thing," Pyle said.
Pyle described what he heard as an emotional bond citizens have toward Laws Field.
The district plans to have a special meeting with the public to discuss the stadium and to help sort out any misconceptions.
"I sincerely hope we have people show up," Kobza said.
Following the information session, if the board decides to keep the same proposal, citizens would need to file a new protest petition, Shew said.
The district will discuss the time and place of the special session during its Dec. 13 meeting.