DALLAS - Trustees of Sedgwick County, Kan., Unified School District 259 have postponed a planned May election on a proposed $350 million bond package after proponents asked for more time to educate voters on the benefits of the measure.

The board voted to delay the vote on the bonds to no later than the general election on Nov. 4. A specific date is expected to be determined soon.

The district, which serves Wichita, has a current enrollment of almost 49,000 students.

Sarah Olson, the co-coordinator of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, a pro-bond group, said more time is needed to provide accurate, complete information on the proposal to voters.

"The thing we tried to get across to the board is that this is a very complicated issue and at this point postponement might be a good idea," she said. "We don't think there is sufficient time available to adequately inform Wichita voters on the merits of the bond issue."

Olson said the group is concerned about incorrect information about the bond issue coming from two groups opposed to the measure.

"Our message is received positively when we have the opportunity to share facts, and we are at a critical stage of the timeline identified for the spring bond election," Olson said. "Whenever we go before people and they hear the accurate, correct information, they are in favor of the bonds."

Proceeds from the $350 million bond issue would finance eight new or replacement schools, make upgrades and additions to 90 schools, and improve aging athletic and fine-arts facilities. The capital improvement program also includes construction of 60 storm-shelter safe rooms at district facilities.

Bond opponent Bob Weeks said the district postponed the election because of fears the bonds would be rejected at the May election.

"It's a mulligan," he said. "They want a do-over. First the board wanted to spend $75,000 to $80,000 for a special election in May rather than wait for the primary in August or the November general election when it would be free, and now they are willing to wait. There's no way the proponents can make this look good for them."

School board vice president Lynn Rogers said he supported the delay, but believes the bonds will be approved whenever the election is held.

"I don't think if will make any difference if we have an election in May, in August, or in November," he said.

"I've had 20 sessions with groups in the past couple of weeks, and nobody has been negative, except those from the anti-bond groups who always show up," Rogers said. "I don't think this delay is going to affect us."

Rogers, who headed the citizens support group when the district passed its last bond package in 2000, said this one is more complicated.

"We're trying to reduce the average class size, accommodate growth that is occurring in some parts of the city, and end 35 years of forced busing," he said. "It is a little more difficult to get the message out than it was in 2000."

The district's GOs have underlying ratings of Aa3 from Moody's Investors Service and AA from Standard & Poor's. District voters approved a $284.5 million GO package in April 2000. All bond projects were completed by September 2006.

 

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