Voters reject Kansas City school bonds request

Voters rejected a request on Tuesday to issue $420 million in bonds for capital projects in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. The measure received support from 42% of voters as 58% cast ballots against.

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May 8, 2024 - 2:07 PM

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a request to issue $420 million in bonds for capital projects in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, sending district officials back to the drawing board on a plan to address the challenges of dated school buildings.

Roughly 8% of registered voters participated in the single-issue special election over the fate of the district’s proposal, according to unofficial results from the Wyandotte County Election Office. The measure received support from 42% of voters as 58% cast ballots against. There were 5,071 ballots cast, with 2,136 supporters and 2,935 opponents. 

The plan before voters called for three elementary and two middle schools to be built. Some additional costs included a $15 million district aquatic center, a $20 million expansion of early childhood capacity, up to $20 million for a new main public library and $44.5 million to cover deferred maintenance. District officials had pointed to the plan as one to address many needs, including aging school buildings and a lack of sufficient space. 

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Superintendent Anna Stubblefield thanked those who participated in the special election to cast votes on both sides. “Unfortunately, it did not turn out in the manner that we were hoping for,” she said. “However, as long as I’m in the seat as superintendent, I’m always going to advocate for what is best for kids in order for them to achieve academic outcomes that I know that they are capable of doing.” 

During her conversations with KCK residents, Stubblefield said she believes a majority of people still want better facilities for students and teachers — even those who did not support the proposal Tuesday. 

“I’m excited about coming to the table with those who potentially have other ideas on how we can get this done, to hear their thoughts and perspectives about what to prioritize and how to improve our facilities for our students,” Stubblefield said. 

District officials decided to put the question to voters earlier this year, saying the last major infrastructure update left a lopsided school system with equity gaps between students who attend new buildings versus old ones. In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a $235 million bond issue to pay for the reconstruction of several schools. It did not increase taxes, a primary concern district officials took into account, and promises were made to come back and update more schools at a later time. Delays since then have been attributed to turnover in top district leadership as well as challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Among the examples of inequity district officials aimed to correct is the situation at Central Middle School, a 109-year-old building where the student population is overflowing to the point that many students have class in outdoor trailers. Two or three students are assigned to a single locker for lack of space. 

The bond faced opposition from residents in large part because it would have increased property taxes. For a resident who owns a home valued at $150,000, the yearly property tax bill was expected to go up by $146.63. 

Celebrating the outcome Tuesday night was Pamela Penn-Hicks, a KCK organizer who helped lead the campaign against the bond. She has cast doubt over the proposal based on costs that would have been shouldered by financially strapped Kansas City, Kansans, as well as whether new facilities were the right answer to other issues, such as the district’s academic challenges.

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article288386560.html#storylink=cpy

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