If you as, Taxpayers, Constituents and Parents are concerned about the School Board’s site selection process:
To show your concerns: be visible and attend either or both Monday's September 17th City Council Meeting at 7:00, City Hall, 701 E. Broadway, 4th Floor, and Tuesday's, September 18th School Board's Meeting at 6:30 in the District's Administration building, 1818 Worley St. with the School Board and Committee, which Phyllis Chase picked to rank and choose sites and which sites were brought to the School Board in a very short time frame by individuals in the community. It is unclear whether the public will be able to comment at this meeting.
Elizabeth Brixey, City Editor of the Weekend Missourian wrote: "Whether you have school age children or not, the quality of schools and the quality of education shape your community... We don't know which site is best, but we believe the best way for that decision to be made is with the addition of your input and insights by participating on our new blog on the high school site found at columbiamissourian.com/blogs. At last count we have had about 30 of them." From those interviewed: The public "were are concerned with finding the best spot for Columbia students as a whole". "It doesn't seem the public is really getting a say in this matter -- it's these appointed representatives who get to do that."
Some have said: Many of the "appointed representatives" on the School Board Committee which will rank the identified 5 sites, you always see over and over on many of the Committees, Commissions and Boards in the City, and on this present Committee, many seem to have a financial vested interest.
First there was the School Board and Phyllis Chase's unilateral decision to choose the site for a new school without transparency, no minutes and voting to buy the property in a closed session, violating the State's Sunshine Law/. Then under public pressure Phyllis Chase and the School Board acquiesced to another process, invited people with land to identify what they were willing to give/sell to the School Board, and then between September 10th when the properties identified were announced and this coming Tuesday, September 18th the School Board and Phyllis Chase said they wanted the Committee members to each rank the sites and then according to that ranking the decision will be made.
Columbia Missouri City Council's Partial Agenda: Monday September 17, 7:00 p.m., City Council Chamber
I. Introductory Items: Roll Call, Approval and Adjustment of Agenda Including Consent Agenda
II. Special Items: Selecting an artist of City Hall Expansion, Plaza and Streetscape Percent for Art Project; Authorizing a Percents for Art agreement with Howard Meehan
III. Scheduled Public Comment: Sid Sullivan – Utilize portion of Cosmo Park for the third school
Below is some history of what has taken place using information from the Missourian, Tribune and other sources:
- "state law says (610.021): "… a public governmental body is authorized to close meetings, records and votes, to the extent they relate to the following: (2) Leasing, purchase or sale of real estate … where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefore," - emphasis added. In this case, the buyer and the seller knew what property was involved and the price. There was no danger of the price going up, so the school board had no legal authority to close the meeting."
- Critics said the first site does not have adequate roads or sewer services needed for a school. Some also have complained that the board did not seek input from city or county planners or the public before voting to use the site for a school.
- Sid Sullivan: "If voters are upset about what uncontrolled development has done to our infrastructure problems, they have to be furious at how the school board can naively create an even greater infrastructure gap. Superintendent Phyllis Chase should apologize for this colossal blunder and rethink this decision before any groundbreaking takes place. We need two changes in our state law to avoid future blunders. First, there should be a joint city/county planning commission for all land use within a two-mile periphery of the city limits for any city over 50,000. Second, there should be mandatory referral requiring all taxing districts to refer their plans for new facilities to the appropriate planning commission. This would create the full review process before a single body diverts all our future roadway dollars."
- There needs to be planning and action between the school district, the city, and the county. But apparently the School Board does not need to consult the City or the County when they choose a site, even though the City and County may need to fund the infrastructure to support the school in the area the school will be built.
- Choosing a site for a school needs to be done in an environmentally, economically and logistically sensible manner among all government bodies that will be affected.
- Stamper said it would be a "grave mistake" to build a school north for that reason. "That’s part of the logic that people aren’t getting," he said. "I think we want to keep Hickman from becoming an inner-city school or geographically landlocked." DeSpain reiterated that Columbia Public Schools boundaries don’t necessarily match city boundaries. The district is short from north to south and wide from east to west, she said. "There is not a lot of area north of Hickman before hitting the Hallsville district." The redistricting committee will work to redraw high school boundaries fairly, said Chairman Don Ludwig, a former board member. No matter where the new school is built, "we’re going to end up with three schools mirroring the population of Columbia as a whole," he said. "It won’t be perfect, but it will be close to being perfect. Rock Bridge is going to change, Hickman is going to change, and we’re going to have a new school."
- The property is outside Columbia city limits and lacks access to, city water or electricity. Local nearby roads are paved Road are paved, but they are considered "inadequate for a significant increase in the volume of traffic," said David Mink, director the Boone County Public Works Department. Both roads also lack sidewalks.
- School Board President Karla DeSpain said but those issues would likely be concerns at any vacant site, regardless of the location, "Any place you have that much land, there is going to be some concern," she said. "There are not many locations with enough land for a high school that would have pre-existing infrastructure. "We’re not going to find property with infrastructure all ready to go. We have to see what’s available, what’s appropriate and what would best serve the district."
- The first phase of the new high school, school is expected to open to ninth- and 10th-grade students in the fall of 2010. It will house ninth through 12th grades, . No decision has been made/ It would include classrooms for about 600 students and common areas such as a cafeteria and media center. That structure would be built with $22 million from the $60 million bond issue package voters approved in April. Voters would be asked to approve two additional bond issues to complete the high school. The new high school would house only ninth-graders the year it opens, and additional grade levels would be added as classes move up. Students attending other Columbia high schools won’t be asked to transfer into the new building. Columbia’s new high school is expected to open in fall 2010 and be completed in three phases.
- "This decision is too important to exclude the public. " "Opening deliberations to the public would remove the veil of secrecy and provide assurance that all important issues are thoughtfully weighed. " With the new committee appointed to review and rank the 5 sites offered (most to be bought) by individuals or groups, will there be enough time so that all important issues in the choice of the school are weighed? Has there been enough time to search for land? Why hasn't the north west sector of the city been included in the search? Phyllis Chase said: "I would like to get the word out that if anyone has 80 to 100 acres of property in the eastern quadrant of the district, the district would be willing to look at it," she said. "The site has to be on the east side of the city because of the boundaries of our district. Certainly it could be further north than the Vemer property, and if anyone has land in that vicinity to trade or sell at a reasonable price, let Dr. Chase know."
- Chase said she couldn’t guarantee (road) improvements would be made, historically, she said, "the city and county has worked with the school district to ensure student and staff safety."
- As one of our Columbia Board of Education members said about another matter, let’s think outside the box. Just because something has always been done one way does not mean there is not a better way to do it.
- Chase said a comprehensive high school needs 80 to 100 acres to allow space for football, softball, baseball and soccer fields and parking lots. Locating a high school in that area (Vemer) could force growth that way, but it could also address growth that’s coming regardless of the school’s location, Chase said. Public Water Supply District 9 and Boone Electric Co-Operative serve that area, and officials from both entities have said they’re equipped to handle the school. But Chase acknowledged there are challenges at the site that must be addressed. "Sewer is a major issue that we need to talk about and plan for," she said.
- Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase stands by the decision to locate a third major high school southeast of Columbia despite lingering concerns that it doesn’t meet the needs of the city’s northern growth patterns.
- Avoiding potential conflicts of interest with staff or students is difficult, Chase said. "As the third-largest employer here in Columbia, and with 17,000 kids and one in five adults a part of our school system, that - probably whatever we were doing, selling or whatever - would have an impact on someone we know or someone who works for us or with us."
- Assume that the new high school houses 1,500 people. Assume that they travel 10 miles farther (round trip) than they would have if the board had sited the school for a shorter commute rather than a bargain price. What will this additional transportation cost? Some students will ride the bus, but most will drive or be driven, and many will make multiple trips for extracurricular activities. Assume an average of one daily round trip by car per person. At $3 per gallon and 20 mpg, this added driving will cost Columbians $2,250 per school day. The savings on land will be quickly swallowed by transportation costs, and midway through the second year we will be in the red, losing nearly $400,000 per year in unnecessary gas money. Meanwhile, we will be dumping into the atmosphere an unnecessary 15,000 pounds per day of carbon dioxide.
- Superintendent Phyllis Chase has repeatedly said the property, partially donated by Turner Vemer, was the only affordable option, but she said this morning she’d be willing to consider alternatives. "I think I’m on record as saying should we find any other more suitable land, certainly, we and the board would consider that," Chase said. Local Realtor John John said, however, the district turned down a more suitable site less than two years ago. Businessman George Godas offered to donate the school district 30 acres of the 200 acres he owns north of Interstate 70 just east of Route Z, then increased the offer to 50 acres and was willing to sell the district additional acreage, John said. The donation came without any stipulation of how the land had to be used, John said, although Godas offered $200,000 for naming rights to the school.
- John said district administrators didn’t look hard enough for other sites. "If they had, they would have found them," he said. "I guarantee I could have found them a half a dozen sites. For $500,000? Probably not. But when you add infrastructure costs, probably the overall cost would have been less." Boone County Northern Commissioner Skip Elkin said district administrators might have known about the additional costs had they asked county officials before making the decision. But he said no one from the school district asked the county for input about the site. "They might have saved $500,000, but it’s going to cost five times that to get all of the infrastructure out there," Elkin said. "Is the school district saving? Maybe. Is the community saving? I don’t think so. … I don’t want to second-guess the school administration, but today, with the lack of infrastructure and facilities in that area, I don’t think it’s an appropriate site today. Ten years from now? Who knows?"
- During a pre-council meeting , Second Ward Councilman Jerry Wade told schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase and board of education President Karla DeSpain he was "befuddled" by the site selection process. "We’re getting information on this after what appears to be a decision already made," Wade said. Chase and DeSpain had shown up to talk with the council about plans to build the district’s third traditional high school on 80 acres at New Haven and Rangeline roads partially donated by Boone County farmer Turner Vemer. Wade and others have said the site is problematic because it will be expensive to extend city services such as sanitary sewer to the site. "I don’t know where we’re going to have money within the next five years," he said last night. Chase responded that almost 1,500 people attended public meetings on the school plan and about 100 have served on committees. "There has been no concerted effort to keep this a secret," she said. The district held community forums last fall, but the forums did not seek input on where a high school should be located. Chase also told council members last night it would have been irresponsible to discuss infrastructure needs with the city before April 3, when voters approved a $60 million bond issue to pay for the first phase of the school, slated to open in 2010. School board members first publicly acknowledged plans for the Vemer site only a day before the board voted on June 21 to build a high school there. Last night’s meeting was the first time school district officials had discussed the site with city officials. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said it was important for the public to buy into the proposal. "Even handing out a map with boundaries of district schools would have gone a long way," he said. As the 20-minute meeting ended, Chase said, "Point well taken."
- Chase and school board members repeatedly said they had no specific plans for the Vemer land when the district acquired it in January, but Vemer said yesterday there was no question in his mind: He donated it for a new high school. "That’s what Dr. Chase and the lawyer told me it was going to be used for," Vemer said when reached by phone in New Mexico yesterday. This morning, Chase acknowledged she told Vemer in December the property would be used for a high school - six months before the school board voted on it. "We anticipated a high school everywhere we were looking for land. We shared that anticipation with Mr. Vemer," she told the Tribune this morning. Former Assistant Superintendent Chris Mallory, who first contacted Vemer about his land, said he’s spent the past year as a consultant for the district talking to developers, real estate agents and property owners about available sites. He said he mostly has looked east, not north, because district officials want the new high school to draw from both Hickman and Rock Bridge territories. "The district’s been looking to the east for the past 15 to 20 years," he said.
- Any future discussions about the location should involve the community, said Tom Rose, the newest member who was absent during the board’s June vote. "It’s important to have everyone’s involvement before we say, ‘Yes,’ " Rose said. "There will be lots of discussions. We have to have them. We have to be clear to the public and involve the public as much as we can." Nothing in Missouri statutes requires school districts to hold public hearings or involve other public entities when making decisions about facilities. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has no role in site selection or building projects, either, because the state doesn’t provide funding for school construction. "Some other states have more prescribed guidelines when it comes to buildings," said Tom Quinn, DESE’s director of school governance and facilities. "In some states, before a school is built, the design and site have to be approved. It’s different in Missouri. Buildings are a local effort. It’s up to local people." Unlike private developers, who have to go through a rezoning process requiring two public hearings, schools and churches can be built on any property, regardless of the zoning. The Vemer property is zoned for agriculture. The public has a say in school building decisions through the election process, board President Karla DeSpain said. "In the sense that school districts must get approval from the public to build buildings, districts and boards are not autonomous," she said. "Those buildings are placed according to the enrollment needs in the district."
- Voters in April approved a $60 million bond issue to build the first phase of a new high school. Two more $60 million bond issues in coming years will need to be approved to complete the building. It’s too early to know whether the unpopularity of the high school location will hurt the district’s chances of getting those bonds approved, said Bill Elder, a school-community relations expert and director of University of Missouri-Columbia’s Office of Social and Economic Analysis. - Mallory, a former assistant superintendent, helped the district acquire 80 acres southeast of Columbia from former Boone County farmer Turner Vemer. Mallory’s total salary includes an $18,750 finder’s fee for Vemer’s land, based on 1 percent of the 40 acres sold and 1.5 percent of the 40 acres donated. The rest of the charges come from $75 an hour for 128 hours of work. Superintendent Phyllis Chase hired Mallory last year. According to documents obtained by the Tribune, he began work on Sept. 1, 2006. The superintendent is not required to seek school board approval before hiring consultants
- Tom Burkett said: "It’s ridiculous to try to build where the population isn’t. It makes sense that a third high school would go where the population is now." "