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Public has many questions for SJSD at virtual town hall

Questions primarily were focused on the district's $107 million bond proposal and their plan to purchase the American Family building and surrounding campus for the location of a new high school.

Posted: Feb 24, 2021 11:27 PM
Updated: Feb 25, 2021 9:07 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) -- Leadership with the St. Joseph School District had their chance to answer questions directly from the public during a virtual town hall meeting held Wednesday evening.

It was the first opportunity for people to respond to administrators since the announcement earlier this week that the district was in negotiations to purchase the American Family building and surrounding campus for the location of a new high school.

For those wanting the status quo to continue in the district with three high schools, they might not have gotten the answers they were hoping for.

"We can not afford the current model that we have," said board of education member Lute Atieh, who appeared in the town hall along with superintendent Doug Van Zyl and assistant superintendent Marlie Williams.

The $107 million bond voters will determine at the polls in April would fund the purchase of American Family along with reconfiguring both Benton and Lafayette High Schools as middle schools. Van Zyl said the savings of going from three high schools to two is just the start of where efficiencies could be increased.

"The thought is that you would have Benton and Lafayette being repurposed as middle schools, Roubidoux and Spring Garden probably get converted into middle schools and you look at the possibility of one of the middle schools being closed, either Truman or Bode and about 4 or 5 grade schools being repurposed or sold," Van Zyl said.

There were a lot of questions about school boundaries and ensuring that in a two high school system there would be equality in education and that the race and income of students attending both Central and the new high school would be similar.

However, school leadership said that was really not the issue to look at for now.

"If we start talking about newer school versus older school this is going to get really difficult and really hard to rationalize. We all need to stay focused on why we're doing this. We need to have equal opportunities regardless of where they live," he said.

Some also asked about the possibility of decreasing opportunities for students to participate in sports in a two school system versus the current three. However, administrators say that some of the current team sports in the three high schools actually need more participants.

In the end, a cautionary warning from Van Zyl that even if the bond does not pass in April, that doesn't mean that there will still be Benton, Central and Lafayette high schools in the future despite what some might want.

"I don't want to think the board is just going to say to me and ask us how do we make three high schools work. That's not what I've been told. If we don't have this happen, there are plans out there to get us to a two high school model," he said.

Administrators say they plan to hold more town halls in future months. 

Voters go to the polls to determine the fate of the SJSD bond question on April 6.

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