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Superintendent’s Message for April

Significant Capital Improvement Needs Ahead

April 4, 2016

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Sixteen years ago, the Emporia Board of Education asked voters to support a significant investment in future generations of Emporia students. Since that time, the 2000 bond election has impacted the learning environment for thousands of students and the adults who facilitate their learning.

The most visible improvements were the construction of two new elementary schools and a large addition at the high school to ease crowding and eliminate the need for mobile classrooms around the district. Two older elementary schools were eventually repurposed to serve as a preschool center and district offices and meeting rooms.

In addition, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning were added to schools without those systems to assure comfortable learning environments for all seasons. Building layouts were updated to accommodate contemporary classroom needs and provide spaces for smaller student-teacher ratios where appropriate. Dollars were allocated to provide better access for individuals with disabilities, to support the growing use of classroom technology, and to complete long-overdue maintenance work. The entire project involved infrastructure improvements in every building across the district, including Flint Hills Technical College, which was then operating under the administration of USD 253.

As the flurry of capital projects concluded, we were able to enjoy some assurance that district facilities were safe and well-maintained, but our responsibility for maintaining district buildings and accommodating the expanding needs of 21st century learners did not end there. Since that time, the district has managed local resources and leveraged outside funding sources to make energy-saving improvements to water, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems; responded to neighborhood growth by adding a wing at Village; addressed curricular challenges by adding physical education classrooms and a indoor activity center at EHS; and addressed enrollment and educational challenges by adding on to EMS and keeping fifth grade classes in neighborhood schools.

In response to several efficiency studies, we sold two older downtown schools and leased the Kansas Avenue building. Likewise, we were able to sell the long-time district office building by consolidating district services with the Flint Hills Special Education Cooperative. All in all, the elimination of these “costly to operate” facilities has saved thousands of dollars.

Now, 16 years later, our “new” schools, as well as our older buildings, are beginning to need attention as roofs, equipment, and structures themselves begin to show signs of normal wear. Through some trying fiscal times for our state and local community, we have kept up with routine repairs and normal instructional demands for technology and specialized instruction, replacement of vehicles and large equipment, and even emergency costs like roof repair and boiler replacement.

Yet, as we look to the future, there are significant needs looming ahead that must be addressed to assure the district can remain responsive to the needs of Emporia kids! Recently, the Board of Education studied a long list of capital needs, some of them deferred while our state and local community recover from the recent fiscal crisis, and some needed to keep up with 21st century expectations for our graduates.

Science classrooms and labs built in the early 1970s are plagued with deteriorating plumbing and drainage systems, well-worn work stations with 1970s technology, and inadequate water and electrical service. Roof repair at the high school alone has a $4 million price tag over the next five years. Auditorium curtains and stagecraft equipment, original floor covering and mechanical systems, cracked parking lots and failing concrete all signal a reminder that a new investment in future generations of Emporia students will again be necessary.

Your Board of Education is made up of seven members who consistently challenge themselves to be fiscally cautious and yet who are visionary, locally responsible, globally aware, culturally responsive and innovative. Their work in this new era in education is critically important and will leave a mark on the future of our community.

You can support their work by listening with an open mind, asking questions and providing input as they consider ways to preserve and enhance your investment in our youth. You can make a difference by believing in the mission as we continue to Build the Future – Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Opportunities!

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