Archive for Monday, April 7, 2003

School board to regroup for new bond

April 7, 2003


A revised bond issue for upgrading Lawrence school facilities may be coming soon to a voting booth near you.

Even opponents of the $59 million bond issue for school construction and renovation that was soundly defeated in Tuesday's election support developing an alternative. Board members -- current and future -- say the replacement proposal should focus on improvements at the junior high and high school levels.

"I feel the next bond issue will deal with the seventh- to 12-grade issues," said Mary Loveland, who lost a bid for a fifth term on the board. "I think it has to happen as soon as we can do it."

Legally, the board can't put another bond before voters for at least 60 days.

Loveland said she would be willing to bring an alternative bond issue to a public vote in August. If limited to secondary school projects from the defeated bond, it would total $46 million.

Leonard Ortiz, who won a seat on the board and will take office in July, said he wasn't interested in the district moving quite so fast.

'Catch our breath'

Ortiz, an advocate of bond projects for Lawrence High School and South and West junior high schools, said final action on a replacement bond shouldn't occur before the new board is sworn in.

"It wouldn't hurt to wait until the new board members are on," Ortiz said. "I think voters were hoping that when the new bond is discussed that it would reflect the views of the new people who were elected."

Scott Morgan, the school board's president, said Ortiz probably had the right idea.

"We're going to need to catch our breath here," said Morgan, who lost his bid for re-election.

The defeated bond was the culmination of two years of study. It would have made improvements at 15 schools and closed East Heights and Centennial elementary schools. Nearly $46 million of the bond was for secondary school projects, with $13 million aimed at elementary schools.

The $59 million bond was sent to voters on a 6-1 vote of the school board. Two board members supporting the bond -- Scott Morgan and Loveland -- were ousted. The lone bond dissenter, Jack Davidson, didn't seek another term.

Bond-friendly majority

Bond opponents Rich Minder and Ortiz as well as bond supporters Sue Morgan and Cindy Yulich were elected.

In July, the new board will have a 5-2 majority in favor of the $59 million bond package. Yulich, a newcomer like Minder and Ortiz, will form a majority with Sue Morgan, Linda Robinson, Austin Turney and Leni Salkind.

Yulich said resolving questions about the district's 2003-2004 budget and getting teachers under contract for another year should be immediate priorities.

"Then start on the bond issue again once everyone knows where we are," she said. "The existing board was elected for four years -- not three years and nine months. They need to continue to make the best possible decisions they can for our students during the time that remains in their term."

Davidson said he was eager for the board to start preparing for another bond vote. That vote could take place later this year, he said.

"It should be about half this one -- about $30 million," he said.

His top priority would be improvements at Lawrence Alternative High School, which is located in a small brick building and several portable trailers. The school serves students at risk of dropping out of Free State High School and LHS.

"We need to fix it and fix it now," Davidson said.

The defeated bond earmarked $6.8 million for expansion at the alternative school.

Elementary closures

Davidson said the district should avoid decisions about elementary school closures until after the next bond vote.

John Fuller of DLR Group, the Overland Park consulting firm that helped the district prepare the $59 million bond plan, said there were two general strategies for dealing with this bond failure.

The Lawrence district could bring back the bond within a few months after minor tweaking, he said. Or the district could wait as long as a year for the dust to settle before tackling another bond election.

He said margin of defeat should be a consideration.

"If you get in the 45 percent to 50 percent range, it means the scope of the proposal was not exactly right," he said. "It doesn't send the message it was a totally bad proposal."

In Tuesday's election, 44.3 percent of voters endorsed the bond.

Fuller said the district's evaluation of why the bond failed also would be a key to determining how to proceed. They'll need to draw upon input of bond supporters and foes, he said.

"The postmortem will be really critical," he said.

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