We cannot continually push for growth in the Northland, which leaders constantly do, without building or enlarging schools. Growth brings more families. Schools become crowded. Managing students and the accompanying activities and transportation issues get complicated, sometimes too complicated for good education.
We’ve seen growth issues before with the Park Hill School District, which now has two high schools. We’ll see it someday down the line in the West Platte and North Platte districts.
We’re seeing a stretched-too-thin Platte County R-3 School District right now.
Platte County superintendent Mike Reik recently floated a preliminary proposal to the school board to fix overcrowding issues, at least for awhile. He suggested a capital fund tax levy estimated at up to 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That would fund renovations and additions to Pathfinder Elementary in the district’s south end and a new elementary school off Fourth Street.
Also among the tentative ideas are some other improvements and consolidation of schools. The tax would have a sunset, and it would address only issues in the district which involve too many students and too little classroom space.
Voter approval would be required. That’s always a major question, but especially since another similar but more grandiose proposal was defeated in 2012. The crowding and space issues are no better now than then.
I’m not on the various campus sites every day so I’m not qualified to judge all points of Reik’s ideas put forth before the board. There will be public input and lots of discussion before any decision is made to put a levy vote on next April’s municipal ballot.
But I do know this.
I have a student at the high school in Platte City who has some classes in an outside building that is very Spartan. The annex structures, commonly referred to as the trailers, are the district’s way of dealing with overflow. I think if more voters saw some of the setup as the district improvises to meet growth, they would see the need.
Some students can barely make it from one class to another due to walking distance. Remember, the old high school has been enlarged in past years into a very long structure now. I don’t know if Reik’s plan would fix the walking distance, as he suggests that the current Paxton School would become part of the high school, but I do know things are bulging at the seams.
We have a lot of new people in the community.
Many of them may not realize the challenges all Platte County school districts face. Let’s take transportation costs, for instance. Remember that in modern times both boys and girls athletic teams are supported. Other activities such as choir, band and Science Olympiad get support, and rightly so.
But there’s also geography involved. Platte County R-3 High School is situated toward the northern end of the district. Some students reside far to the southeast in the Barry Road area. New home construction is bringing more families into that southeast area.
The KCI corridor has residential growth, too, that’s not close to Platte City.
Park Hill has faced similar issues. Park Hill High School, the original off Barry Road west of I-29, is rather to the north of that district. Construction of Park Hill South High School in Riverside some years back balanced things out a bit.
North Platte High School is at the northern end of that district. West Platte High School is on the western edge of its turf. Existing dominant towns and road situations in the mid-1900s, plus politics, dictated the patterns, but now there are new highways, plus subdivisions and shopping centers that are essentially like new towns. The Platte portion of Kansas City North is poised for explosive growth with the city installing new water and sewer lines north of Barry Road.
I do not envy the decisions to be made by current Platte County R-3 School Board members when they see the current crowding and the inevitable major growth to come. And while the Kansas City International Airport adds tax base, many major projects are built with tax breaks built in.
Besides building and classroom issues, I think about teachers and staff. I’ve encountered some wonderful instructors during my own children’s time in the R-3 district. I’d like to think we’ll keep attracting and retaining that type of talent. Community support for schools send messages that good teachers heed when they apply for jobs.
Good schools are among the most critical pillars for strong economies and property value retention in a community. Whatever proposal gets hammered out this fall, I hope voters note the details and issues and make decisions that support excellence in education.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.