Lindbergh school board narrows options to address Sperreng space concerns

Decision on Sperreng ‘huge,’ according to board President Fey

By BURKE WASSON

After originally being presented six options to address space concerns at Sperreng Middle School, the Lindbergh Board of Education has whittled down a future no-tax-rate-increase bond issue to three choices.

School-board members agreed during an April 26 work session that they would consider one of the following three options to present to voters in either November or April:

• Converting Sperreng and Truman Elementary School to fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools, adding onto Crestwood and Long elementary schools, converting Concord School to an elementary school and purchasing a site to relocate the district’s early childhood education, or ECE, program from Concord School. The cost of that option, not including the cost of purchasing a site for the early childhood program, would be roughly $12.5 million.

• Converting Sperreng and Truman to fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools and building a new elementary school. This package would cost $17.5 million to $20 million.

• Retaining Sperreng as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, converting Truman to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, adding onto Crestwood and Long elementary schools, converting Con-cord School to an elementary school and purchasing a site to relocate the district’s ECE program from Concord School. The cost of that option, not including the cost of purchasing a site for the ECE program, would be roughly $13.8 million.

Representatives of a 53-member Demographic Task Force comprised of parents, residents and staff members originally presented six options in April to the Board of Education. The committee, which began meeting last fall, originally had considered more than 50 options before arriving at the six recommendations presented to the board. The task force conducted two public forums in March at which the six options were presented along with projected costs from Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer.

At the March 19 forum, Superintendent Jim Sandfort noted that a bond issue would be needed to fund whichever option is selected by the board. On April 26, board members also developed the following criteria to address space concerns through one of the three possible bond issues.

Board members concluded that the final decision must: be educationally sound, be supported by the Demographic Task Force, disrupt the fewest families possible, be within the district’s existing bonding capacity, be supported by a community survey, be “reasonably long term” or 10 to 15 years, maintain state’s desirable class sizes, maintain program space, encompass operational costs, provide equity of resources and programs among schools, not rely on operational dollars to address space needs, have a doable schedule and be supported by a unanimous board vote.

The board also discussed during the April 26 session that short-range help with overcrowding over the next three years at Sperreng will likely come with the purchase of modular portable classrooms or by subdividing current rooms.

Board members are tentatively slated this summer to decide on one of the three options for a bond issue.

Superintendent Jim Sandfort, who is retiring effective July 1, said he believes the board would be presented in June with revised versions of the three options after weighing all costs and soliciting feedback from the Demographic Task Force.

“We probably won’t make the May 13 meeting,” Sandfort said. “I would like to think the end of May, we could get this thing wrapped around and then come back before the June board meeting.”

Board members also emphasized at the April 26 session that they would like the community to be involved before the board decides which option to place on a ballot.

“We have three options,” board member Mark Rudoff said. “And we also have sitting over here a laundry list that is going to be tacked onto these three options. Is this the time where we ask for community comment before we make a final decision?

“Is this where we put it out on the ledge and ask the public to provide their input and discussion before we go ahead?”

“I think whatever your decision is going to be, you would want to have the people there and be able to explain fully here’s what we’re trying to do and then let them respond to that,” board Vice President Vic Lenz said. “You can put something out in writing and six people are going to read it and think six different things.”

Newly hired Superintendent Jim Simpson, who will take over the post being vacated July 1 by Sandfort, told the board that in his experience as superintendent of the Joplin School District, he has found three essential questions that must be addressed.

“One, is there a clear, evident need of what you’re going for and does the community believe there is clear evidence?” Simpson said. “So that’s something to discuss.

“Second … when you run it, do you go for two-thirds or four-sevenths? … You know Lindbergh. The only way you’re going to get two-thirds is you’ve got to think that a low turnout can be your asset because you can get enough parents and supporters of the school district to override the natural anti-tax. And to have the best situation, we have a no tax increase. That is a great asset. Still, if the clear, evident need becomes any kind of an issue, that won’t get a bond issue passed. You’ve got to make sure you get how the community feels about that …

“I’ve known districts that do their demographics and their voter trends so well that they can take a two-thirds and make it happen. But I would hate to see this district come 3 percent short after all of this work.”

District officials have pushed for reorganization of the students due to overcrowding at Sperreng.

Sperreng Middle School Principal Jennifer Tiller has told the board that while multiple experts believe that 600 to 800 pupils is the “ideal size” for a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, Sperreng currently has 1,321 pupils.

She also has noted that of 23 middle schools in the area, only two other middle schools had over 1,000 students. Six had below 600, 10 had the “ideal size” of 600 to 800, four had 800 to 1,000 and three, including Sperreng, had more than 1,000 pupils enrolled.

The school already has converted all unoccupied space — including closet spaces, faculty lounge and custodial office — into classrooms.

Faced with these constraints as well as knowing that any decision will result in redistricting, board President Ken Fey reminded board members of the importance of this decision.

“I have been in this district a long time and I can think of only about maybe one, maybe two other decisions in this district that are going to be bigger than this,” Fey said. “So this is going to be a huge decision. This will impact the students of our district for a long time to come. The administration has put many, many hours into this and has gone about this tremendously. Our citizens have done this, too.”