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Archive for Wednesday, April 2, 2003

School bond issue fails

Voters reject $59 million plan that would consolidate elementaries

April 2, 2003

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It was too big. The numbers didn't add up. It didn't make sense to close schools and build schools at the same time. The timing was bad. The consultants' cut was too big.

Whatever the reason, Lawrence voters Tuesday rejected a proposed $59 million bond issue for school construction, expansion and renovation.

The unofficial tally: 9,575 for; 11,773 against.

"It failed for a number of reasons," said Jerry Schultz, a member of the Centennial Neighborhood Assn. steering committee and an opponent of the bond issue.

"Even though the school board wanted to disassociate the bond issue from the issue of school closings, the two could not be disassociated -- that, I suspect, was a major reason," said Schultz, a research professor at KU.

Bond opponent and KU political science professor Burdett Loomis said, "It was too big, and it attacked two schools -- Centennial and East Heights -- that had strong constituencies."

Forced to cut costs, school officials proposed closing Centennial and East Heights elementary schools and moving their students to expanded facilities at nearby Cordley and New York elementary schools, respectively.

Officials insisted the two issues -- bond issue and school closings -- were separate and warned that defeating the bond issue would not keep the schools open.

Still, three neighborhood associations affected by the proposed closings -- Centennial, East Heights and Brook Creek -- unofficially opposed the bond issue.

Informal exit polling at Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship church, 700 Wakarusa Drive, upheld Schultz's observations:

  • "I'm totally against the school closings," Donna Johnson said.

Reminded of the school board's admonition, Johnson replied, "I've seen the numbers. I don't believe them -- they're not going to save the money (by closing schools) they say they are."

A bond issue approved in 1998 earmarked no money for an administration building, but the board then spent $4.1 million to purchase a central office and warehouse building at 110 McDonald Drive.

  • "It put way too much money into bricks and mortar -- the money could be spent much more wisely," said a mother in her 30s who declined to give her name. "It's not the building that makes a school; it's what goes on inside the building."

The bond issue's defeat disappointed incumbent school board member Sue Morgan, who was re-elected Tuesday.

"I fear that we've lost an opportunity to deal with the fiscal constraints that we are under in a way that's most advantageous for the kids," Morgan said. "Now, I'm afraid we'll be forced to deal with things in ways that are less advantageous -- and that's a disappointment."

Morgan said she expected the new school board to eventually assemble a smaller, reconfigured bond issue.

"The issues that are driving this have not gone away," she said, warning constituents to expect another round of painful spending cuts.

Though Sue Morgan was re-elected, two pro-bond incumbents -- Scott Morgan and Mary Loveland -- were defeated.

Newly elected board members include Cindy Yulich, a bond-issue supporter, and Leonard Ortiz and Rich Minder, both opposed to the bond.

"People want a bond," Ortiz said. "They didn't want this bond."

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