Archive for Tuesday, November 19, 2002

$59 million package faces April vote

November 19, 2002


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 districtâÂÂs 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 boardâÂÂs 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.

âÂÂI can think of no fairer way. This is as close to pure democracy as we can get,â 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 wouldnâÂÂt back down from a campaign promise made four years ago to strongly oppose school consolidation.

âÂÂTo me, a promise made should be a promise kept,â 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 âÂÂoutrageous burden to place on our taxpayers.âÂÂ

The largest bond issue ever approved by Lawrence district voters was for $36.9 million in 1994.

The districtâÂÂs facility consultants, DLR Group of Overland Park, will play a big role in outcome of this 2003 bond issue. The firmâÂÂs 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.

âÂÂIn todayâÂÂs tax environment, we donâÂÂt sell bond issues,â he said. âÂÂWhat weâÂÂre looking to do is educate people.âÂÂ

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 wonâÂÂt vote for the bond under any circumstances, he said. Another third would do just about anything to get it passed.

âÂÂWeâÂÂre after the one-third in the middle that with good, credible information will vote yes.âÂÂ

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.

âÂÂYouâÂÂve got to answer individual questions,â he said. âÂÂItâÂÂs got to be very grassroots. ItâÂÂs over the backyard fence. ItâÂÂs almost community coffees. YouâÂÂve got to talk about this in detail.âÂÂ

On Monday night, the four-hour meeting resulted in approval by the board of a resolution authorizing a bond vote. They didnâÂÂt officially vote to close the three elementary schools, but that is clearly the boardâÂÂs intent.

It will likely be the issue of school consolidation that raises the most voter angst.

The Lawrence school board will ask the districtâÂÂs voters in April to invest $59 million in public school facilities. Projects included in the proposal are:

⢠Elementary schools: $12.8 million. This includes $9.2 million to bring Cordley and New York schools to the districtâÂÂs 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.

⢠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.

⢠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.

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