Some big numbers are being tossed about in the Lawrence school district.
Voters will be asked in November to approve $31.7 million to build a second high school, upgrade the current high school and add onto a couple of elementary school buildings. It will cost an estimated $3.67 million to run the new high school during the first year. That's $903,000 more than the district would spend without a second high school, administrators say.
As school board members ponder these and other figures, it is important for them to remember that they must consider not only the best interests of district students, but also the best interests of district taxpayers.
There is no indication that Lawrence school administrators are being irresponsible in their requests for programs and facilities. It should be remembered, however, that the primary job of school administrators is to act as advocates for children to see that they receive every advantage in the education process. They also represent teachers who want new materials or larger classrooms. There probably always is a longer list of what school officials "need" than there are funds to fill those needs.
That's where responsible, knowledgeable elected school board members come in. While they must keep the best interests of children, teachers and staff in mind, they also are elected representatives of the community the taxpayers who must pay for whatever improvements are made in district schools.
Balancing those two interests isn't an easy job. School officials may tend to ask for a few more teachers or classrooms than they must have. Taxpayers tend to be unhappy about anything that raises their taxes. But it's important for board members to take input from both sides of the issues and make responsible decisions for district schools.
Sometimes that means trimming or denying a school administrator's request. Sometimes it means asking taxpayers for more than they really want to pay. A responsible board can't just accept every recommendation then pass it along to the taxpayers for funding. School board members also need to exercise sound business judgment.
As the high school bond vote approaches, voters are concerned both about their schools and about their taxes. One of the issues they will have to consider is whether the school board has adequately represented its constituents by weighing the burden the bond issue will place on taxpayers against the need for a second high school. Would other alternatives have presented more sound, workable and cost-effective ways to deal with expected enrollment increases and maintain a good, up-to-date school system?