April 30, 2013

Thomas explains need for school bond

April 30, 2013 Staff Writer Susan Wagoner

Salina School Superintendent Tony Thomas is crossing his fingers for success in an upcoming bond issue vote.

On May 14, residents will cast their ballot in favor of or against a proposition worth $1.37 million.

According to the ballot, the money is “for the purpose of constructing, equipping, repairing and remodeling school buildings, acquiring school furniture, fixtures and equipment.”

For Thomas, the description doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the need.

“We’ve tried several bond issues in the past to address some of these things, but we haven’t been successful,” he said.

He explained that even when a bond issue fails, it doesn’t mean the need went away.

“We had a bond issue fail that was for transportation,” Thomas said. “We needed three new buses desperately. When it failed, we still had to buy those buses, but the money came out of our general fund. If the bond had passed, that $250,000 could have been used for things like upgrading technology, but we bought buses instead.”

Last fall, Thomas sent out a survey detailing the needs of the school and asking parents to prioritize their importance.

“The top thing they marked was a new roof on the high school gym,” he said. “We call it the ‘new gym,’ but it’s 40 years old.”

Thomas said the roof leaks during heavy rains and has been patched and repaired as much as it can be.

“We’ve talked about using that space more than we do currently, but that isn’t possible until the roof is replaced,” he said.

There was a tie for second most important priority. First, parents indicated that they would like to see a technology upgrade on existing capabilities as well as adding new technology.

“That would require us to update all of our infrastructure,” Thomas said. “Tied for second was an air conditioner in the ‘new’ gym.”

In addition to sporting events, the gym is used to host graduation, funerals and other community events.

“It was real important to us to get feedback from our parents,” Thomas said. “Based on that survey, we put together this bond issue.”

In addition to the top three items listed by parents, Thomas added several items that will address security concerns throughout the school system.

“Of course we considered the tragedy in Newtown (Conn.) as far as security,” he said.

Thomas said the elementary school is the only building on campus with a secure entrance.

“The middle school, the high school, the cafeteria and a couple of other outside buildings all need to be addressed,” he said. “The high school in particular has several vulnerable spots. There are five entrances to the high school that have to remain unlocked right now so the kids can move back and forth between buildings.”

Thomas was formerly the high school principal and remembered an incident that illustrated his point.

“I received a call from Tulsa police informing me that a stolen car they had been pursuing was parked in the parking lot of the high school,” he recalled. “I went to check it out and encountered a man who was obviously out of place there in the hallway of the school.”

Thomas said the man asked to see a student. Thomas refused and was able to redirect him out of the school. The man, later identified as a former convict, took off when he heard approaching sirens, but was later captured.

“With these proposed security changes, he would never been allowed access inside the school,” he said.

 All necessary buildings would feature secured entrances complete with cameras and buzz-in capabilities.  Fencing would be added in other areas.

If the bond issue fails, it will not be possible to make all of the proposed changes with general fund cash.

“It’s tough everywhere, and we’re no different,” Thomas said. “Everyone’s paycheck is smaller. Our budget has been cut 20 percent in the last five years. I know it’s tough to ask for a bond issue right now, but we’re not asking for marble floors and golden doors. These are basic, but essential things.”

If the bond issue passes, the money will be collected from taxes on property owners. For every $100 paid in annual property tax, there would be an increase of $8.07 per year, or 67 cents per month. A tax bill of $500 would increase by $40.33. A small price to pay for the value given, according to Thomas.

“With this bond money, we can take care of the bare necessities, provide a more secure environment and ultimately a better education for our kids,” he said.

Thomas said he has a “super awesome job” and responsibility to the kids and the community.

“We have a wonderful community and it’s up to all of us, whether you have kids in school or not, to provide them with the very best that we can,” Thomas said. “Somebody provided ours long ago. Now it’s our turn.”

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