Thursday, May 16, 2019

Leading aquatics organizations promote safe enjoyment of water



by Mary Wilson 

The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging parents to start their children in swim lessons as early as age one, according to a recently released study. Drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children in the US aged one to four, and the third leading cause of unintentional injury death among children under 19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning claimed the lives of almost 1000 US children in 2017. In recognition of the popularity of swimming and other water-related recreational activities in the United States, and the resulting need for ongoing public education on safer water practices, the month of May 2019 is considered National Water Safety Month.

“It is a powerful way to send a crucial message at the start of the busy summer swim season,” said Connie Harvey, Director of the Aquatics Centennial Initiative for the American Red Cross. “There are layers of protection involved in water safety. Ensuring everyone in the family learns how to swim and that parents and caregivers have the knowledge and skills to handle emergencies around the water, including how to perform CPR, is a good place to start. National Water Safety Month helps us communicate these messages.”

According to Barbara Tulipane, CAE, National Recreation and Park Association president and CEO, nearly all Americans believe it is important for children to learn how to swim at an early age.

“That’s why we’re proud to promote the importance of water safety at our nation’s park and recreation centers where there are opportunities for everyone, especially children, to learn how to swim,” Tulipane said.

What started as a week in 2003 has grown into this annual month-long event that is supported by thousands of aquatics facilities and professionals that provide educational programs, public service announcements, governmental proclamations, dealer and aquatics business promotion and the distribution of water-safety-themed materials, designed to help prevent water-related fatalities, illnesses and injuries.

“In 2018, we were able to secure proclamations from governors in all 50 states recognizing May as National Water Safety Month. This recognition emphasizes the importance of protecting kids and families in and around the water through education and building awareness,” said Rick Root, World Waterpark Association (WWA) President. “Participating in National Water Safety Month is a wonderful opportunity to broaden our reach and amplify our message about the importance of learning to swim and providing undistracted parental supervision while children are in or near the water.”

Locally, employees at The View community center in Grandview take water safety seriously, and consider it a top priority for anyone visiting the facility’s swimming pool.

“We have too many kids coming in here needing saved,” said Grandview Parks and Rec’s Aquatics Supervisor Kaitlyn Keck. “We had two saves on Saturday alone. It seems like every year, we have more and more kids needing saved or are drowning. Water is everywhere. It’s not just in a pool. It’s really scary to have to go in and save a kid. It is also scary for the kid. It can give them a bad experience and make them uncomfortable around water.”

Keck helps adults and children of all ages to get over their fear of water. She said that there are some adults who are terrified to go on a cruise or be near a body of water because of something that may have happened to them a long time ago.

“I went to a job fair at Grandview High School a few weeks ago, and we asked students if they’d be interested in being a lifeguard at The View,” said Keck. “Probably 90 percent of those we asked said they didn’t know how to swim. It’s like riding a bike: you never forget once you learn, but you have to learn how to do it.”

New this year, Parks and Rec is partnering with the Grandview School District to offer basic swim lessons for fourth graders enrolled in summer school. They’ll teach the students basic water safety, including when to get help, survival swimming, and how to properly wear a life jacket.

Swim lessons are offered through Grandview Parks and Rec, as well as lifeguard certification, CPR and other water-related activities. Private or group swim lessons are available. The View also offers free, family-oriented events year-round. Visit www.grandview.org for more information on lessons or events.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Controlled Chaos

Mock crash held at Grandview High School to prepare students for prom weekend

By Mary Wilson

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The Grandview police and fire departments don’t want Grandview High School students to become part of that one death every 50 minutes statistic.

On the morning of Friday, April 26, before juniors and seniors headed to their prom on Saturday night, a mock crash was held in the parking lot of the high school. Retired Grandview firefighter Terry Magelssen served as the crash narrator. The dramatization is an effort to ensure that students put safety at the forefront of their minds when attending celebrations.

The crash staging included a head-on collision with multiple passengers with differing severity of injuries. Throughout the dramatization, Magelssen provided students with tips on what to do if they are in an accident, and how to avoid something of that magnitude altogether.

“The statistics tell us that everyone here, at least once in your lifetime, will be involved in something like this,” said Magelssen. “That’s a scary thought. It could be tomorrow, or it could be 50 years from now. At least once, you’ll experience something like what you are seeing today.”

A car crash happens almost every 30 seconds in this country, according to Magelssen. In Grandview, crashes happen two or three times each week.

“Keep this in the back of your mind: when you are driving a vehicle, what you are actually doing is controlling a 5,000 pound weapon,” said Magelssen. “You are essentially seated inside of a missile. When these two cars collided, they expended enough energy that would be the equivalent of three or four sticks of dynamite.”

He added that there are three crashes that occur with each vehicle accident. The first is when the cars hit each other. The second is when the bodies, restrained by seatbelts and airbags (or maybe not) hit the inside of the car. The third collision is the one that kills passengers.

“I want you to be serious when you get behind the wheel of that 5,000 pound weapon,” said Magelssen. “Not only could you injure yourself, but you can injure innocent bystanders or everybody in your car. While today we’re focusing on prom season and the distractions that cell phones can create, or the craziness that happens in your brain from alcohol and drugs, know that this happens from a bee flying in the car, a flat tire, or an old man who’s having a stroke or a heart attack. What you can do for us is take away that part that deals with cell phones and other distractions.”

Magelssen said that the first responders have a job in Grandview to make certain that no students end up in crashes like the one shown on Friday. The crash demonstrated what happens when a vehicle collision occurs, acted out by peers from the Grandview High School drama department. 





Friday, April 19, 2019

KC’s largest no-kill animal shelter celebrates diamond anniversary


by Mary Wilson

For three-quarters of a century, Wayside Waifs has been preparing pets and people for the bond of their lives. This year, as they celebrate their 75th anniversary, the nonprofit organization focuses on remembering their rich history while preparing for the next 75 years.

Fenby Webster recognized that conditions for animals in the community simply weren’t right, and she sought to do something about it. With $5,000 and 28 other volunteers, 75 years ago, she purchased farm acreage along Martha Truman Road in Grandview to create the Jackson County Animal Betterment Association, which has grown to the almost 50 acres Wayside Waifs sits on today.

“This organization was created out of recognition by Fenby Webster of how animals were cared for at the local dog pound,” said Wayside Waifs President Geoff Hall. “She knew that what she was seeing wasn’t right. That was a sea change in society in recognizing that we should care about animals and that animals have intrinsic value beyond the utility.”

The farm that Webster purchased served as Wayside’s shelter for the vast majority of the organization’s existence. At some point, the Jackson County Animal Betterment Association became known as Wayside Waifs, and the organization has always been an independent nonprofit.

“Like most nonprofit organizations, we were hand-to-mouth, struggling to make ends meet,” said Hall. “The need for all these homeless animals in the area far exceeds what we could do. They were great intentions to do good, and they did good, but they didn’t have the luxury of resources.”

Expansion of the facility happened gradually overtime, as funding allowed. Hall said that the organization operated in this fashion up until the mid-90s. At that time, the Missouri Department of Agriculture said that Wayside was maintaining deplorable conditions for the animals in the organization’s care, and that a new shelter would need to be built or they would be shut down.

“Thankfully, a group of people said that we could either fold up, or we can forge ahead just like Fenby Webster and her friends did decades earlier,” said Hall. “They raised a tremendous amount of money to build the shelter we’re in today.”

The current shelter at Wayside Waif’s opened in 1998. Hall said that while the agency has had a good reputation in Kansas City since the beginning, the organization ran short of the goal to air condition the new building.

“We had the building built, but we didn’t have the climate control that we needed in Missouri,” added Hall. “At that time, a board member stated that she had a friend of the family who may have the interest and capacity to donate.”

That turned out to be successful local entrepreneur Harold Melcher, who, along with his business partner, was revolutionary in introducing the world to canned meats after World War II. At the time, the board member informed Melcher that there was a dog named Sophie at Wayside that he should come see.

“Harold said no. He didn’t like animal shelters and refused to come meet this dog,” said Hall. “So, Susan brought Sophie to him. He loved Sophie right away. The irony is that it took Sophie an entire year to love Harold. But, Harold loved this connection, and Sophie then became known as the dog that saved Wayside.”

Hall added that Melcher was generous to the organization, but his involvement went beyond his financial philanthropy. He recruited his own friends to become involved with Wayside Waifs, and Melcher fell in love with the organization and found a way to utilize his expertise in entrepreneurship.

“What he gave this organization was not only the gift of his time and his treasure, but also his talent of having professional expectations, hiring competent staff, the appreciation of branding, and recognizing the benchmarks of successful nonprofits organizations, and specifically successful nonprofit animal shelters,” said Hall. “Of all the previous 60 years, I consider Harold sort of a virtual founder. Without his influence, we wouldn’t be who we are. We’d probably be here, but Harold was an important secret ingredient to Wayside’s success in a lot of ways. The one thing he added that money can’t buy is leadership.”

Melcher, who turns 100 this year, served as Wayside’s board chairman for a number of years, and has since been named chair emeritus. Hall said that Melcher’s influence has helped Wayside maintain its credibility in the community as being an exceptional organization, but the nonprofit continues to recognize that resources are finite.

“We have to make decisions all the time based on allocating resources for the greatest good,” said Hall. “In its essence, Wayside is Kansas City’s largest no-kill pet adoption campus. What that means is adoption is our primary focus and means of helping animal welfare.”

Every animal that comes to Wayside is homeless, which can be the cause of many different scenarios. Some come from unsafe or unhealthy conditions, some are cases of neglect or abandonment, and others the volunteers or staff simply don’t know why or how they got there.

“Wayside is here to help animals,” said Hall. “We are a no-kill animal shelter. Euthanasia is a very rare occurrence here, and the condition in which we will choose euthanasia is a chronic medical condition that will practically guarantee suffering, or if behaviorally they are such a risk to people and other animals.”

Wayside maintains a nearly 98 percent live release rate, which means the animals that come to the shelter leave as pets. The organization is a managed-admission shelter. They control the intake of animals in order to provide the shortest stay possible for each pet, providing the opportunity to care for more animals over time. Working strictly with domestic animals, the average stay for each pet is right around 13 days, caring for nearly 6,000 animals annually.

“We strongly believe that a community of responsible pet owners is an embraceable community, a safer community. People are looking after each other. There are tons of benefits of pet ownership. But, pets aren’t for everybody,” said Hall. “We’re not saying that everybody should have a cat or a dog, but I think many people will say that their lives are better because of a connection with a pet. Even though we are an agency that helps homeless animals, we are really a human agency. We’re a people organization. Without people, none of these animals have hope.”

Moving forward, and to fulfill what Wayside sees as a necessity in the community, the organization will soon embark on creating the Wayside K-9 behavioral center of excellence. The organization will scientifically produce approaches to benefit shy and fearful dogs into becoming more confident around people, and high-arousal dogs becoming more calm and peaceful around people. With that will come brand-new, dedicated facility for these two populations of dogs.

“We recognize that our biggest limiting factor is our own facility,” said Hall. “While it’s great for some things, it’s not ideal for others. This new facility will provide these dogs with the quiet space and a professional staff to do this.”

Wayside has partnered with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which started a similar program a few years ago. SFS Architecture, out of Kansas City, will work with A.L. Huber contractors to build the facility. There will also be a significant expansion of the existing building to accommodate classroom space for public education like dog behavioral classes, and provide additional staff workspaces.

Hall invites anyone who hasn’t experienced Wayside Waifs in the last several years to come out and see the facility and the grounds. There is a pet cemetery (even a monkey is buried there) that dates back to 1946, an off-leash dog park, and walking trails on the 50-acre site.

“75 years is a big deal,” said Hall. “We recognize that at numerous points over the last 75 years we could have ceased to exist. I’ve been very lucky to inherit the hard work of so many of my predecessors. It is the love of this organization that was founded by Fenby Webster in 1944, and a recognition that we have been here for people and animals that entire time, that has made us a Kansas City metro region asset and resource.”

He added that the most important part of the Wayside organization is the people. With a staff of around 75, and a regular volunteer core of 1,400, Hall said that a large portion of the people who do the hard work day in and day out also contribute to the nonprofit financially.


“Culture, for me, is the most important thing that I can provide this organization,” Hall said. “The celebration of 75 years is more than a celebration of physical existence in Grandview and serving Kansas City metro; this is really a celebration of all the people who struggled through many, many years to provide the platform for where this organization is today. We’re looking forward to a future where the work done here is going to help animals far beyond our region.” 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Grandview’s first distinguished alumni honored

by Mary Wilson

After receiving dozens of nominations spanning the country and the world, the Grandview Education Foundation recognized the first two Grandview High School distinguished alumni award winners during a dinner celebration on Thursday, April 4.

Ina Jane (Billingslea) Bryan, class of 1947, and Leonard Jones, Jr., class of 1973, were honored among friends, family, business associates and peers with a presentation of their awards at The Martin event space in Martin City.

Bryan, who currently volunteers with the education foundation, attended Grandview schools throughout her early education, then after graduating from Central Missouri State University in 1951, she returned home where she was offered a job to teach junior high social studies. Thus, her 40-year teaching career in Grandview schools began. In 1967, Bryan became librarian at Grandview High School, and she remained in that position until her retirement in 1991. She went on to serve on the Grandview Board of Education, the Order of Eastern Star, St. Matthew Presbyterian Church, her sorority alumni club, General Federated Women’s Club, Grandview Retired School Personnel, and her bridge club, just to name a few.

“I want to thank the foundation for recognizing me in this way,” said Bryan “Over the years, I’ve received many awards and been recognized for many things, but receiving this tonight is probably the highlight of my life. I’m grateful to all of those who were foolish enough to go along with this. You have all impacted my life and have made me a better person. I hope that in some small way I have impacted yours.”

Mayor Jones has called Grandview his home for more than four decades. He was first elected to the Grandview Board of Aldermen in April of 1998, and was then appointed Mayor of Grandview on January 21, 2014. He was elected to that same role in April of 2014, and has served in the city’s highest elected office since, splitting his time between his careers at Sprint as a Sourcing Manager and leading the City of Grandview. Jones has actively served on many boards and commissions over the years, including: the Grandview Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Little Blue Valley Sewer District Board of Trustees, VFW post 8100 and the ReDiscover Board of Directors. He received the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award from MCC Longview, and actively participates in municipal organizations such as the Missouri Municipal League and National League of Cities.

The Grandview Education Foundation is planning to make the distinguished alumni awards dinner an annual event. Nominations for future recipients will be accepted by the foundation later this year. Going forward, according to the foundation board, the award will be named the Jane Bryan Distinguished Alumni Award.

“When the GEF Board considered what to name our Distinguished Alumni Award, we didn't have to look farther one of our own members,” said Foundation President Cindy Bastian. “Jane Bryan has been a member of the GEF Board for nearly 20 years, served 6 years on the Grandview Board of Education, taught in Grandview for 40 years, graduated from GHS, and has been a life-long resident of Grandview.  It was an easy decision to name the award the Jane Bryan Distinguished Alumni Award.”

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Grandview senior hopes to make lasting impact

by Mary Wilson

As seniors in Grandview approach their final quarter of high school before graduation, things like prom, college admissions, dorm rooms and summer jobs are likely at the forefront of these young adults’ minds. However, for Grandview senior Chayanne Sandoval-Williams, her thoughts are on what sort of legacy she can leave behind.

“Taking what I have learned here and expanding on it more; that’s the point of all of this,” said Sandoval-Williams. “The goal of our team is to inspire people through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). You can’t do anything in the shadows; it’s too dark there. We have to go out and find some light and show off what we’re doing.”

Having just returned from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she received the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC), Sandoval-Williams has had doors open for her in the world of computers and technology in the last few years. But, she didn’t always dream of working in the tech field.

“I always wanted to be a restaurant owner, but I needed some classes to fill my freshman schedule,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I noticed that there was a computer science class. At this point, I hadn’t even considered engineering because I wanted to be a business owner.”

She caught on, and somewhere along the way, technology became the forefront of her high school education. Sandoval-Williams said that here in the Midwest, girls going after the NCWIT award may not have the same access to opportunities as those from the coasts. She added, though, that whatever opportunities are given to girls like her, she sees them multiply the resources in order to accomplish great things. As the girls in technology programs continue to thrive, Sandoval-Williams said that they will begin leaving their marks and in the future, Midwesterners will see the same opportunities as those elsewhere in the country.

“There’s a huge disparity between what a girl in Silicon Valley may have versus a girl who may live in Indiana,” said Sandoval-Williams. “We are taking what we have and growing it because we want to decrease the lacks that we see compared to everywhere else.”

“I first applied for the Aspirations in Computing awards my sophomore year, but I didn’t have a lot under my belt at that point,” she said. “I was really just getting into the flow of things. I won regionally, and have continued applying year after year. This year, winning the national award, I have met females who have done astonishing things like starting organizations, and have gone across the world starting initiatives.”

Growing up in the age of dot com, Sandoval-Williams has had access to technology her entire life. During her eighth-grade year, she had a teacher who loaned her a book on HTML after she read a JAVA script book she checked out from the school library. During a break from school, she took the book and worked on learning HTML, building her first website.

“I was just bored and looking for something to do,” she said. “The website had a picture of my favorite band and flowers, and it was gaudy and awful. But, it was the first thing that I had created and I just fell in love with it.”

At that point, she said she still wasn’t sure that she would make a career out of this, as she was just playing around with what she had learned. Taking her first computer science class her freshman year, she was one of three females in the room.

“My teacher, Mr. Vance, saw something in me that I guess I had not seen in myself and he invited me to come to a robotics meeting,” she said. “So, I stuck around for a little bit, and one meeting became another, and over time I ended up falling in love with all of this.”

She said that what gave her an edge was that she took her interest in technology beyond the classroom. Due to the lack of programmers on the robotics team after a few months in, Sandoval-Williams learned how to program in just a few weeks and is, as a senior, now leading the show.

“It started with robotics, and it’ll end with robotics,” she said. “When I leave, the team will still be here and they’re still going to be strong. The goal is that I leave something behind for them. There is a world out there a lot bigger than Grandview, and I realized I could start here, but there is so much opportunity out there waiting.”

She has implemented a robotics mentorship program with students in Grandview elementary schools. With the understanding that technology moves fast (adding that the first robotics team in Grandview wasn’t even implemented yet when she was starting kindergarten), Sandoval-Williams sees the need to inspire and motivate the next generation of STEM learners.

Although, according to Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez, Sandoval-Williams is motivating more than just those in elementary school. Teachers, principals, counselors and district administration have all been impressed with the soft-spoken yet powerhouse of a teen that she is.

“Chayanne is the epitome of what we want to see from our students and how much they can accomplish,” said Rodrequez. “She was part of the all-girls engineering class and discovered a new passion. However, it is what she has done with that passion that is so amazing. Her continual drive to learn and to be better is infectious.”

Sandoval-Williams envisions Grandview being a hub for robotics and Project Lead the Way in the future. She is excited to see the district embrace STEM by beginning Project Lead the Way programming in pre-k classes.

“We’ll have this new generation of kids who will be saying, ‘I want to be an actor, or singer, or astronaut. I want to be an engineer,” she said. “That is super-duper exciting. We’re putting the stones in place for all of those students to reach those goals. There has always been an amazing emphasis on both STEM an the arts, and I think it’s important to continue to grow both, because they have to work together.”

“She makes everyone around her a better person and continually gives back to her school and to the school district,” said Rodrequez. “While I will be very sad to see her go, I told her I cannot wait to watch her walk across the stage, give her a diploma, and then just sit back and watch all the amazing things she will accomplish with her life after that moment. She is an excellent example, and one of many, of why I love this job.”

She was also selected as a recipient of KC Scholars scholarship, which would provide up to $10,000 per year up to five years of education at a Missouri post-secondary institution. Sandoval-Williams has her sights on something bigger for herself, though, and may be attending college out-of-state.

“I might not use it, but it is really cool to know that I have that available to me,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I came into my senior year with a large hunk of money waiting, and it helped push me to make a few key decisions.”

She is looking at universities on both the east and west coasts, but doesn’t intend to make a final announcement until the official College Decision Day on May 1.

“I am so lucky,” said Sandoval-Williams. “There has been this abundance of support for me, my sister and my family that has made all of the schooling experience so different in comparison to anywhere else.”

Ultimately, after she goes off to college, and has several years of a computer science career under her belt, Sandoval-Williams said that her dream would be to come back to Grandview and teach. She said thanks to teachers she has had over the years, who have inspired her and pushed her to try new and different things, she would like to help inspire another group of students.

“I’d like to be able to give back my time,” she said. “In all of the reflecting that I’ve done this year, I’ve found that one of the most valuable professions that will outlast the turns of time, all of the tech that will take over the world, all of the art that will fade in and out of popularity, the most important profession in all of existence will be teaching. The teachers will always have a direct influence on whatever happens in the future.”

Ideally, she sees herself in a remodeled version of her current teacher’s classroom teaching computer science. Her goals will remain lofty, and she said that she’d like to fulfill some of her passions like owning a restaurant and becoming a computer programmer first. Either way, she says, Grandview is and always will be her home.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Local chambers combine for joint networking luncheon

by Mary Wilson

Grandview and Belton Chambers of Commerce have teamed up to provide their members a unique partnership opportunity with businesses in neighboring communities.

On Thursday, February 28, the two chambers met for a joint luncheon, where leaders from both cities shared highlights from the past year and provided insight into what’s to come in 2019. The Belton Chamber of Commerce first kicked off the idea of joining forces in 2018, with plans to meet annually. Representatives from education, economic development, business relations and city management from both Belton and Grandview presented to the chamber members.

“We are really excited of the year that we’ve had thus far,” said Dr. Andrew Underwood, Superintendent of Belton Schools. “We’ve got a great, veteran staff in Belton that is providing top-notch education for our kids.”

Underwood added that with the latest Annual Performance Report for his district being at a 92.9%, Belton continues to aim for 100%. The district is also completing a $32 million construction project at Belton High School, which will provide a 9-12 grade building.

“We’ve not been able to have that in probably the last 15 years,” said Underwood. The project is scheduled for completion in June, with opening by the 2019-20 school year.

Alexa Barton, Belton City Manager, stated that one of the very first things she accomplished upon her new position was to introduce herself to Superintendent Underwood.

“It’s been one of the best things that I’ve ever done,” said Barton. “In working with the school district, we’ve really improved those communications. I am so proud of our school district. I am so proud of our teachers and our students and all of the hard work that they’ve applied to raise our scores the way that they have.”

Barton added that the district is the City of Belton’s secret gem. The city and the district are working on a collaborative marketing plan to let visitors and interested investors know that Belton is making great strides to improve its image and is open for business. She added that with commercial development, the city is also seeing new subdivisions taking shape.

With the development of Southview Business Park, located just south of Grandview along I-49 and 155th Street, Belton’s jobs will increase by approximately 1,300, and residents will also see some infrastructure improvements. This will include a thoroughfare from 155th Street to 163rd.  Barton said that this was absolutely necessary in order to provide access to the facility.

Grandview Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez said that his district also works closely with Belton, and that Underwood serves as one of his mentors. He discussed Grandview’s three main priorities for the school year: college readiness, career readiness, and cultural competency.

“We are extremely blessed,” said Rodrequez. “This school district is one of the most amazing places that I’ve ever worked in and I’m certainly very pleased to be the superintendent.”

Rodrequez added that his district has increased ACT scores in the last three years by over a point, and as a whole scored over 90% on the state’s Annual Performance Report. His goal is to provide a path to college or career for every student in the district. The district is also seeking opportunities to work more with the community and further parent involvement.

“It’s almost cliché to say that it takes a village, but it really takes everybody,” said Rodrequez. “Our school districts cannot do this by ourselves. It benefits everybody to work together.”

For the City of Grandview, City Administrator Cemal Gungor talked about the improvements on the I-49 Outer Roads to be changed back to two-way streets, along with the splash pad groundbreaking ceremony taking place this week.

“This is not the Grandview of your mothers and fathers,” added Economic Development Consultant for the City of Grandview Troy Nash. “This is a new city with a dynamic mayor, a dynamic board of aldermen, a city administrator with a lot of energy, and a committed senior leadership team.”

Nash stated that Grandview is included in the state’s opportunity zone, which was selected by the Governor to focus on the most economically deprived and underserved parcels of land. 161 designated opportunity zones were submitted by the governor, and with Grandview being on the list, Nash said that means the city will be able to keep its share of private capital investments made in the city.

Belton will host next year’s joint luncheon with the Grandview Chamber of Commerce. For more information, follow either organization on Facebook.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Hickman Mills may have to close four schools to accommodate budget needs

by Brent Kalewi

The Hickman Mills School District has been seeking answers to cope with a $5.5 million shortfall. In the district’s effort to reach its goal, it has been leaning on the help of Florida-based MGT Consulting
Group.
The district held a public forum on Tuesday, February 12 at Smith-Hale Middle School, to allow MGT to present recommendations, which included closing four of the district’s nine elementary schools – Truman, Symington, Dobbs and Johnson. The schools were selected based on a scoring chart that graded the schools’ condition and suitability. The chart showed that seven of the district’s schools were classified as poor or unsatisfactory in the suitability category.
“Those buildings are actually serving as a barrier for educators to do the work that they are in charge of doing,” said Portia Bates of MGT Consulting Group.
A learning environment can impact student performance anywhere from 12-20 percent, according to Bates. Only one of the district buildings is currently at the 85 percent utilization rate recommended by MGT.
“Buildings that have low utilization rates really pull from your operational dollars,” Bates said.
Moving the students into fewer buildings would save the district on busing, staffing and maintenance costs, according to Bates. A demographic study showed that the district’s enrollment decreased by about 1,800 students during the last 32 years. The district’s enrollment is projected to drop from 5,773 in 2018-2019 to 4,472 in 2027.
John Sharp, a former Hickman Mills school board member, believes the projections are pessimistic, adding that residential projects and recent development of the city can help the student enrollment rate.
“I’ve always felt very positive about the district, but seeing the magnitude of these closures that have been recommended does cause me concern,” Sharp said. “To close four elementary schools sends a bad message to residents of this district. In the neighborhood I live in, I’m seeing houses being renovated that have been vacant and abandoned for 10-20 years. I don’t think we are going to keep seeing this decline in population.”
Dan Weakley, Executive Director of Operations for Hickman Mills, said the district has a fiscal responsibility to use tax dollars in the best possible way for kids. He added that the data in the demographic study is extremely important in the district’s decision-making process.
“We have had ups and downs in economic development over the last 32 years, but the one consistent thing that has happened during that time, is that enrollment has continued to decline,” Weakley said.
An additional item to consider, according to Weakley, is reducing transportation costs and providing opportunities to bring students to closer proximity to their schools.
In order to make up the other portion of the deficit, additional budget reduction recommendations by the district’s Executive Leadership Team include cutting travel costs, restructuring programs, decreasing building and district supplies, and reconfiguring grades. The cuts would equate to more than $3.3 million. The proposed grade reconfiguration plan includes moving pre-kindergarten to one building; having elementary serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade; Smith-Hale Middle School as sixth-eighth grade; and sending freshmen back to Ruskin High School.
The district reduced the budget by $2.8 million last school year, according to Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile.
“The team and I have really worked in looking at how we can spend dollars in a more fiscally responsible manner because the board has challenged us,” Cargile said. “Each board member really wants to make sure that we spend our dollars in the most impactful way to serve children effectively.”
The district’s fund balance was at 8.5 percent at end of 2017-2018 school year. The fund balance for the end of 2018-2019 school year is projected at 9.1 percent. Hickman Mills’ goal is to eventually reach 15 percent.
“It’s important that everyone in this room knows that we don’t engage in this work without feelings, emotions and concern for the best interest of children.” Cargile said. “But, when you are faced with a decision where the finances are depleting and your fund balance is decreasing, you have to make those difficult decisions.”
As far as possible layoffs, Casey Klapmeyer, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and Accountability, said no decisions have been made.
“We’re working behind the scenes in knowing staffing at each building, so that when we get to a point when we make a recommendation to the board, we’ll quickly have a turnaround time to inform staff,” Klapmeyer said. “As soon as the decisions are finalized, communicating any staffing changes that will take place will be a priority.”
School board president Wakisha Briggs said the final decisions should be made in the best interest of the district’s future, which includes hiring teachers, investing in facilities, making sure their students compete well with neighboring school districts and improving community engagement and economic development in south Kansas City.
“The number one goal for this district is to provide students with a high quality education, and we must figure out a way to stabilize our budget,” Briggs said.
Bates and district leadership emphasized that the final recommendation could be different than the one presented at the forum.
“We are not done with the options. The schools that you see proposed here may or may not be the final schools that are proposed to be closed,” Bates said.
A final recommendation is scheduled to take place at the Thursday, February 21 school board meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith-Hale Middle School multipurpose room, 9010 Old Santa Fe Road. The Board of Education's vote, however, will likely not take place until a special scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 7.