For Sale: One used school

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

USD 257 board members are willing to divest the district of LaHarpe Elementary School. The question, though, is what is Allen County, or another buyer, willing to pay?
Sale of the school, closed to save money to meet cuts in state aid, was a topic at a Wednesday evening Board of Education planning session. Also discussed were Bowlus Fine Arts Center finances and the district’s educational philosophy.
When board members voted to close the school they left patrons with the thought that it would be sold, said Mary Apt, board president.
“Is there any benefit to giving it to the county?” she asked.
Since the district and county are both tax-supported, gifting the school would mean not taking tax money from one pocket and putting it in another, said Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools. But since the taxing districts aren’t the same — the district’s is half the county’s in valuation — several board members thought a sale would be better.
If the county is interested in buying the school to house an ambulance barn and emergency dispatch center, as hinted during a tour of the building by county officials Tuesday, they must make an offer.
County commissioners previously said they will decide by month’s end on a contractor to build an ambulance station in Gas. Should they choose to buy in LaHarpe, that deadline would be moot.

THE DISTRICT pays $131,000 a year to use classrooms and performance areas in the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. The charge is a sore point for some board members, particularly as they’re faced with having to reduce expenses substantially because of state aid cuts. Neuenswander said the cuts are likely to become more severe in the months ahead.
“It wouldn’t be popular, but maybe we need to increase taxes,” said Tony Leavitt, who will take a seat on the board July 1.
The district currently levies 5 mills, which raises $250,000 in local money, but has authority to increase the levy to 8 mills. That would bring in an additional $150,000 — more than enough to meet the Bowlus bill.
Deanne Burris took another tack. She wondered if there would be advantage for the district to give control of the Bowlus Center to the University of Kansas and “then lease it from them.”
Provisions of Thomas H. Bowlus’ will that provided money to build the center included recourse for KU to take possession of the center if it were abandoned by the school district.
“It would be interesting to see how much interest they would have,” Buck Quincy said.
Board members noted that classrooms in the Bowlus hadn’t been updated since its construction in the mid-1960s and that it’s greatest advantages to the district was an appropriately arranged instrumental music room and performance areas.
“It’s an albatross for us when it comes to funding,” Quincy said.
Board members Georgia Masterson, Apt and Jack Stanley, middle school principal, will meet with the Bowlus Commission next week to discuss funding and whether the district’s portion might be reduced.

AS FOR educational philosophy, board members tweaked what has been in place for several years. The district’s new mission statement is, “The mission of USD 257 is to inspire all students to succeed.” It had been “... to be successful.”
Belief statements, strategic practices and strategic goals are off-shoots of that statement. They categorize the district’s desire to educate as well as possible all students, and treat them with respect.