Recommending that the Olathe School Board put a $244.8 million bond before district voters in a special election June 8 was not a difficult decision for the School Bond Task Force to reach, according to one of its 58 participants.
The board unanimously approved to put the bond before voters at its March 25 meeting.
Matt Wiltanger, 42, served as a member of the task force that met five times earlier this year. A lawyer, he is a life-long Olathean and a 1989 graduate of Olathe North. He and his wife Laura, also a life-long Olathean and former Olathe teacher, have three children attending classes in the Olathe school district.
“It was a really great experience,” Wiltanger said of his task force work. “It was very informative. We were learning stuff about the school district you didn’t know. It was really an open process; the school district officials who were assisting with the process were open to all comments and responsive to questions.
“I really felt like the bond task force guided the process.”
Wiltanger said with all the information that was presented that making the decision to recommend a bond election was not difficult.
“Some of the information would be hard to argue with,” he said. “You look at the growth curve of the district, the number of kids in the high schools and the lower grades, and it all makes sense so you get to a pretty quick and reasonable consensus.”
He added that if members of the task force didn’t agree with the statistics being presented, the atmosphere would have allowed those voices to be heard.
“I did not think at any point that we couldn’t have said, ‘No, this is stupid; it makes no sense and we’re not doing this.’ I felt like you could do that along the way if you wanted to,” Wiltanger said.
Because of that, he said there were some “lively” discussions on some issues, including putting artificial turf on athletic fields, technology, and school safety.
“Discussed more than anything was whether to put artificial turf on eight fields or all 14 fields at the district complexes,” Wiltanger said.
The task force recommended putting artificial turf on eight fields, which the board approved after some discussion.
School board president Amy Martin said the artificial turf was one of two issues the board discussed in detail.
“We had a lot of discussion about that but ultimately went with the task force’s recommendation to turf one of each field at each of our complexes,” she said.
That will be a total of two football fields, two soccer fields, two softball fields and two baseball fields.
“There are safety concerns about the fields,” Martin said. “On our football fields have divots that are 8 inches deep and we have concern for other students like drill team and band members.
“Another big concern is how weather restricts access. When you have a softball game cancelled and rescheduled, it impacts student instruction time when those games have to be made up; kids end up getting pulled out of school at the end of the day to go to those games and we hate to do that.”
Putting artificial turf on the fields will be expensive, she said.
“But they cost a lot less to maintain when you look at the mowing and the chemicals and the attention that we put on our existing fields,” Martin said. “There were a lot of things that the board members considered, however, I think all of us felt pretty strongly that we needed to do something.
“I think all of us probably would have liked to do all of the fields, but the community really doesn’t understand all the issues and we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the bond.”
Wiltanger said he supported putting turf on all the fields.
“For me, there were three alternatives,” he said. “One, build a new activity center for $18 to $20 million dollars or, two, turf everything and have a little more normalcy of scheduling and have less seasonal wear-and-tear. Plus you have a far better opportunity to hose baseball and softball tournaments in the summer. The third alternative, turf one field at each stadium, and for me that’s the minimum.
“There was a lot of back-and-forth discussion on this, but (the turf issue) was a relatively minor part of the bond because it’s a difference of about $6 million between doing eight fields or all 14.”
Wiltanger said other discussions focused on technology and the defining the district’s technology’s goals.
“And we had a lot of discussion about safety and security,” he said. “Not in the sense of disagreement over it, but in the sense that people are pretty passionate about the safety and security, and I’m sure that many in the room were colored by Newtown (Conn.) because it had happened just before we started meeting as a group.
“There were competing concerns about putting a drive between Olathe South High School‘s parking lot and going through the parking lot at Heritage Elementary. The traffic flow in and out of Olathe South in the mornings and afternoons is not good. If you’re coming east on 151st Street to get into Olathe South, it’s a nightmare; the traffic is backed up to and around Lindenwood.”
He said he understands the concerns from Heritage parents, but said a gate would be closed into Olathe South at 7:50 each morning and it would only be open from to about 3:15 in the afternoon.
“So, you wouldn’t have kids driving through Heritage when kids are being dropped off or getting picked up,” Wiltanger said.
The school board tabled that issue until further discussions could take place with Heritage officials and parents.
Wiltanger said he as glad he took part on the task force.
“The experience was fantastic,” he said. “It was very informative and I thought we had some really, really good back-and-forth dialogue; the district welcomed everyone’s thoughts.”
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