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Ellis schools cite growing numbers in bond push





Aging facilities, the need to transport students for classes and activities and space issues are among the challenges prompting USD 388 officials to call a special election June 4 for a $10 million bond.

"We're going to have to address them sooner rather than later," said Mark Polifka, USD 388 school board president.

Enrollment in grades K-8 has increased 15 percent to 20 percent in the last two or three years, according to Superintendent Bob Young.

"Our district is growing," Polifka said. "We're going to have to move the junior high."

Junior high students currently are housed in Washington Grade School, and bused to Ellis High School for several classes a day.

A classroom addition on the northeast corner of the high school would allow the junior high to move there, and free up space at Washington.

Other proposed improvements to the high school include a multi-purpose room that could serve as a storm shelter, a gymnasium and stadium complex. The multi-purpose room would serve as a wrestling room.

The building housing the secondary gym was built in the 1950s, and the area where the wrestling room is located was built in approximately 1915.

If the bond passes, some of the money would be used to pay off $1.5 million in HVAC improvements, freeing up $172,000 in capital outlay for other projects, Young said.

Projects on the wish list include improved energy efficiency, updated cafeteria and restrooms at Washington Grade School and upgraded science rooms and libraries at both schools.

The facilities improvement process started with ACI-Boland, a Kansas City planning and architectural firm. Then a team of 30 community members met for two days making a list of district needs and prioritizing them. The items in the $10 million bond came from that list.

District officials conducted public tours earlier this year and started a facebook page to address patrons' concerns -- from land ownership to wind speeds -- as they surface.

To those who say the money isn't going to education, Polifka said "extra-curricular activities help keep kids in school. If you lose them your school system gets smaller."

The process has gone well, and the district has gathered a lot of information, Polifka said.

The current mill levy for the school district is about 50 mills and would increase approximately 18.25 mills if voters approve the $10 million bond.

That additional mill levy would add $104.94 annually on a home valued at $50,000; $209.88 for $100,000 and $419.75 for a $200,000 home. The median home value in Ellis County is $123,800, according to information prepared by Piper Jaffray.

"It is a big bond, (but) if not now, when," Polifka said.

Advanced voting at the Ellis County Clerk's office started May 20, and will continue until noon June 3, Donna Maskus, Ellis County clerk, said.

"There are 1,716 qualified voters in the (USD 388 district)," she said.

"I think a greater percentage will vote than did on the (Ellis County) sales tax issue," Polifka said.

About 18 percent of Ellis County voters went to the polls in that special election May 14.

"I think the people who are for it (USD 388 bond) need to get out and vote."