Archive for Monday, February 3, 2003

New group forms to fight bond

Former school board president to lead efforts against school closings

February 3, 2003


A new group wants to strike out the school district's proposed $59 million bond issue.

A coalition dubbed COBRA -- the name stands for Citizens Opposing Bond Reevaluate Alternatives -- met for the first time Sunday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. The group is led by James Hilliard, a former school board president whose four-year term expired in 2001.

Hilliard spoke for a few minutes, then answered questions and solicited ideas from the 10 people in the audience. He said he didn't publicize the meeting much in advance.

"I want it to grow from here. That's kind of my goal," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind this bond issue is going to fail."

Repeating a theme he's emphasized in the past, Hilliard said the consultant hired by the school district to create the plan, DLR Group of Overland Park, didn't gather enough public input. He said the board was "blackmailing" the public and forcing it to take or leave the plan -- which calls for millions of dollars in construction and the closure of Riverside, East Heights and Centennial schools.

Hilliard said residents didn't support closing schools and called the plan a slap in the face. He suggested the district wouldn't save as much money from consolidating schools as the consultants claimed; he said he planned to start crunching numbers to prove that.

"Show the real numbers," he said. "There's many ways to manipulate numbers."

Also, he dissented from another bond-issue opponent, board member Jack Davidson, who recently said the plan created a division based on class between Lawrence's east and west sides.

"This is not an east vs. west issue. This is a community issue," Hilliard said.

People in the audience included Bill Kummerow, 32, a Kansas University computer programmer active in the University Place Neighborhood Assn. He said he wanted to learn more about the issue in part because he hadn't decided where he stood.

"I don't think I necessarily know enough to come out and say, 'Yes, I'm opposed,'" he said.

He and his wife have a 20-month-old son, and they live within a few blocks of about 10 other young children, he said. The children would go to Centennial School-- if it's still open when they reach school age.

Others at the meeting included school-board candidates Cille King, Leonard Ortiz and Michael Pomes.

COBRA is up against Vote Yes for Lawrence Kids, a group pushing for the bond issue.

Mickey Woolard, an East Heights teacher and a member of the pro-bond group's steering committee, said he thought the district's consultants went out of their way to solicit public input before they presented the plan.

Also, he said closing the schools was necessary for the district to spend its money wisely and efficiently.

"As I've talked to people about the bond issue, the more that they hear, the more in favor they are," he said.

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