Archive for Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Bond opponents question district’s Web site content

February 18, 2003


Opponents of the Lawrence school board's $59 million bond issue don't think the district is playing fair.

Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at Kansas University, said the district's informational Web site about the school-construction bond crossed the line into advocacy.

"If a private group wants to advocate for the bond issue, fine, but this site, with its half-answers and half-truths and complete disregard for opposing points of view, is not an informational site, but a campaign vehicle," Loomis said.

"I don't mind a fair fight, but when I see my tax dollars and those of the many people who oppose the bond being used to support it in reckless ways, it drives me nuts."

The site is www.bondissue

.org. It went up about the same time district staff began distributing posters and brochures with details of the bond to all school buildings.

Supt. Randy Weseman said the district was legally obligated to provide information on the bond to potential voters. A Kansas attorney general's opinion issued in 1993 that involved Topeka public schools made that clear, he said.

"The electorate is entitled to know what this money is being used for," he said. "People need information. That's what we do."

Weseman said he didn't think the Web site contained inaccurate statistics or faulty summaries of proposed changes in district facilities.

However, Weseman said, he appreciated Loomis' position.

"He's biased," the superintendent said. "If you look at (the Web site), it's the facts."

Weseman said his goal was to put as much information as possible about the bond in the public's hands and let voters settle the issue.

"The act of trying to influence the decision, that's left to the pro and con groups," he said.

Organizations have surfaced to fill that advocacy role. The pro-bond group is Vote Yes for Lawrence Kids and was set up by Scott Morgan, the school board's president and a candidate for re-election.

Former school board President James Hilliard set up an anti-bond organization called COBRA. It stands for Citizens Opposing Bond Re-evaluate Alternatives.

Loomis said foes of the bond, which includes a proposal to consolidate elementary schools, would likely establish a Web site to rebut the district's presentation.

For example, he said, the public shouldn't accept an assertion by the district's facility consultant, DLR Group of Overland Park, that consolidation of East Heights, Centennial and Riverside schools would save $1.4 million annually.

"We're supposed to take the DLR figures at face value? There's no independent analysis of that," Loomis said.

The board plans to close Riverside in May regardless of the bond vote. East Heights and Centennial would close after completion of bond-financed additions to New York and Cordley schools. These two schools would absorb East Heights and Centennial students.

The bond election is April 1 and coincides with election of four board members. A primary Feb. 25 will narrow the 13-candidate field to eight.

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