Two Public High Schools Not Likely, Jefferson City District Says

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Jefferson City Public Schools' purchase of a 120-acre plot to build a new high school campus has spurred a new grassroots organization advocating two separate high schools, even though an official said Friday the school board is "very, very seriously leaning toward a single high school."

David Luther, an assistant superintendent, said the board originally discussed opening a high school at the new campus--located off Highway 179 in the western portion of the city--and renovating the current campus to serve as a second high school. Luther said that approach, however, now seems highly unlikely after further consideration from the board. Instead, the board is leaning toward selling the old campus and then splitting the new high school into an "academy" system, which would break the school into subcategories of 300 to 500 children with similar subject interests.

"They feel good about the academies. They think they can do this with a single building," Luther said. "You're talking about 2,500 to 3,000 students on one campus. But in reality, you're talking about seven different small high schools on one campus."

That's not sitting well with Dan Ortmeyer, a member of "Citizens for Two Public High Schools." He's a graduate of Jefferson City High School, but his own children attend Helias because of Ortmeyer's dissatisfaction with the public schools' overcrowding.

According to Ortmeyer's website, a survey conducted in 2011 revealed "a second public high school was favored by 48 percent of respondents," out-polling two other proposals to keep just one campus.

"We're at the bursting point as far as students," Ortmeyer said. "Just look at the numbers."

But Luther said that 2011 survey isn't necessarily a barometer of public interest.

"You can look at that, but it's two years old now," Luther said.

In 2012, Jefferson City Public Schools conducted another survey, but this time, it did not ask respondents whether they preferred one or two high schools. Instead, it focused questions more about the structure of the proposed academy system.

"I have to be frank, that question [about two high schools] wasn't really part of this second survey because the board felt they were satisfied with the single high school option," Luther said. "They felt that was the right direction to go."

Luther said the district will need both a bond and tax levy to raise money to build the new school. He said he expects the board to talk in December about the ballot language. In January, it could discuss more specifics about funding with regards to the April 2013 election.

Even if a single high school approach seems imminent, Ortmeyer said he's not backing down from the district, claiming the school district appears to have "disregarded" the response from taxpayers.

Luther said this project involves a three-prong approach: purchasing the land, selling the old campus and then paying for construction of the new school. So far, the district has satisfied the first requirement.

That's a process Ortmeyer said he's not happy with.

"This would be equivalent to putting Hickman up for sale before they built Rock Bridge," Ortmeyer said. "It's time we do something to better the kids in the community."