It's Valentine's Day, but Scott Morgan isn't going to sugar-coat Lawrence school district's challenges.
Morgan, among three incumbents in the 13-person field of candidates for school board, said people planning to vote April 1 against the board's $59 million bond for school construction should skip his name when voting Feb. 25 in the primary election for school board.
"If you don't agree with the bond, you don't agree with my vision. I really shouldn't be your representative on the board," said Morgan, the board's president.
Morgan, a 45-year-old resident of Lawrence since 1988, has displayed a straightforward, in-your-face style throughout his four-year term on the board.
He's not shy about being on the losing end of a 6-1 vote. In fact, he was the only board member to oppose extension of former Supt. Kathleen Williams' contract a few years ago. It made her cry. She quit.
Morgan has pressed district administrators for answers to so many questions they thought of him as insensitive.
And the one-time legal counsel to political powerhouse Bob Dole hasn't held back on the school-board campaign trail when asked to share his sentiments about the school construction, elementary consolidation and budget priorities.
"This job pays nothin'," Morgan said. "The thought of going through this and being coy, it's just not my personality."
Morgan said the community should pass this bond. It finances replacement of South Junior High School, expansion of Lawrence Alternative High School and improvements to more than a dozen other school buildings.
The package includes additions to Cordley and New York elementary schools to accommodate the transfer of all students from Centennial and East Heights schools, which would then be closed. The merged schools would have about 270 students each.
He said the board should be lauded for proposing solutions that bring state-of-the-art school buildings to neighborhoods east of Iowa Street.
"For years, they have rightfully complained about the inequity," Morgan said.
Morgan said voters need to appreciate the $3.1 million in budget cuts and fee increases adopted by the board last year might be repeated if the state drops the ball on school finance again.
"We simply can't act like nothing is wrong," he said. "I will in a flash trade money that I have stuck in (building) square footage for money that I can put into teachers and programs."
The board's consultant, DLR Group of Overland Park, estimates $1.4 million in annual savings by shutting down East Heights and Centennial.
It's through that lens that Morgan wants voters to examine candidates and the bond issue.
"There are no easy options left," he said.
He said the "big fallacy" in anti-bond circles was that defeat of the bond issue guaranteed all schools would remain open.
"That's patently false," Morgan said. "I need to get that across to people."
He said East Heights and Centennial "will eventually close" regardless of how this bond fares.
"In an ideal world you would just maintain every building because change of any kind is not a very pleasant deal. School consolidations are a necessary part of maintaining the excellence in education ... that this community rightfully demands."
He said his top spending priorities were reducing student class sizes and raising teacher salaries.
After moving through Shawnee Mission public schools, Morgan earned a journalism and law degrees at Kansas University.
He worked about five years in Washington, D.C., before starting Morgan Quitno Press, which produces monthly and annual state and city statistical publications.
He runs the company with his wife, Kathleen, in an East Lawrence office decorated with a talking Elvis Presley statue.
Two of their children are at Sunflower School and one attends Southwest Junior High School.
In part, Morgan said his decision to seek a second term was made while thinking about lessons he's tried to instill in Kelly, Calvin and Grace Morgan.
"My father was on the school board," Morgan said. "The way I view public service is that you take your turn. It's hard for me to say, "That's what you should do, but I'm not going to do it.'"
Morgan said that feeling won't change if the bond is trounced or if he's tossed by voters.
"If that happens," he joked, "it can be group therapy for everybody."