A nearly unanimous Lawrence school board agreed Monday to seek voter approval in April of a record $59 million bond issue for school construction and renovation.
It would finance significant improvements at 14 of the districtÃ¢ÂÂs 25 schools, and it would be combined with closure of Centennial, East Heights and Riverside schools.
Half the money - $30.2 million - would be spent on junior high schools, including complete replacement of South Junior High School. Upgrades at Lawrence and Lawrence Alternative high schools absorb $15.7 million, while additions to elementary schools account for $12.8 million of the total.
This bond election April 1 will be a referendum on the boardÃ¢ÂÂs vision of change in public school facilities. It also could turn out to be a referendum on board members themselves, with four supporters of the bond issue up for re-election.
Ã¢ÂÂI can think of no fairer way. This is as close to pure democracy as we can get,Ã¢ÂÂ said Scott Morgan, board president, bond supporter and possible candidate for re-election.
In the 6-1 vote, board member Jack Davidson was the lone dissenter. He said he wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt back down from a campaign promise made four years ago to strongly oppose school consolidation.
Ã¢ÂÂTo me, a promise made should be a promise kept,Ã¢ÂÂ he said.
Davidson, who applauded earmarking $27 million to replace South and improve the alternative high school program, said asking voters to pass a $59 million bond issue was an Ã¢ÂÂoutrageous burden to place on our taxpayers.Ã¢ÂÂ
The largest bond issue ever approved by Lawrence district voters was for $36.9 million in 1994.
The districtÃ¢ÂÂs facility consultants, DLR Group of Overland Park, will play a big role in outcome of this 2003 bond issue. The firmÃ¢ÂÂs contract with the district stipulates that it could earn millions of dollars in construction management fees if the bond is approved.
John Fuller, a principal in the DLR Group firm, said anti-tax sentiment made it a challenge to gain voter adoption of bond issues for public schools.
Ã¢ÂÂIn todayÃ¢ÂÂs tax environment, we donÃ¢ÂÂt sell bond issues,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂWhat weÃ¢ÂÂre looking to do is educate people.Ã¢ÂÂ
DLR Group will help the district coordinate activities of community members willing to lobby on behalf of the bond issue, Fuller said. A third of voters wonÃ¢ÂÂt vote for the bond under any circumstances, he said. Another third would do just about anything to get it passed.
Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre after the one-third in the middle that with good, credible information will vote yes.Ã¢ÂÂ
Supt. Randy Weseman said the bond issue would be won or lost based on the outcome of individual discussions that will occur thousands of times in the next five months.
Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂve got to answer individual questions,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs got to be very grassroots. ItÃ¢ÂÂs over the backyard fence. ItÃ¢ÂÂs almost community coffees. YouÃ¢ÂÂve got to talk about this in detail.Ã¢ÂÂ
On Monday night, the four-hour meeting resulted in approval by the board of a resolution authorizing a bond vote. They didnÃ¢ÂÂt officially vote to close the three elementary schools, but that is clearly the boardÃ¢ÂÂs intent.
It will likely be the issue of school consolidation that raises the most voter angst.
The Lawrence school board will ask the districtÃ¢ÂÂs voters in April to invest $59 million in public school facilities. Projects included in the proposal are:
Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Elementary schools: $12.8 million. This includes $9.2 million to bring Cordley and New York schools to the districtÃ¢ÂÂs new educational baseline for two-section schools so they can handle students from Centennial and East Heights schools, which would be closed along with Riverside School; and $3.6 million in additions to Broken Arrow, Deerfield, Hillcrest, Quail Run, Sunset Hill and Wakarusa Valley to eliminate portable classroom trailers.
Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Junior high schools: $30.2 million. This includes $21.2 million for construction of a new South Junior High School at the current site and $9 million for renovation of existing classrooms at Central Junior High School and West Junior High School and additions at Southwest Junior High School to eliminate portables.
Ã¢ÂÂ¢ High schools: $15.7 million. This sets aside $8.9 million to renovate Lawrence High School and $6.8 million to expand Lawrence Alternative High School.