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Archive for Saturday, March 29, 2003

District should go back to the drawing board

March 29, 2003

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We are being asked to approve an ill-conceived and wasteful school bond. It is based on incorrect information provided by consultants (e.g, the costs of enhancing Cordley), proposes unneeded facilities (e.g., adding on to New York School), and lavishes $7 million on an alternative school campus that the community hasn't publicly debated. Some of it responds to real needs on which there is community consensus (e.g., upgrading existing buildings).

It's the most expensive school bond ever offered, during the worst economic times in memory, and it does nothing to advance student achievement. There are so many problems with this bond that it should be sent back to the drawing board.

The greatest flaw in this bond is basing the costly $8 million expansion of New York and Cordley schools on the closing of Centennial and East Heights, two well-run and increasingly successful schools that we all really want to keep open, as well as Riverside. Superintendent Randy Weseman has proudly praised the advances at East Heights that have been based on new leadership, program resources and community partnership. Student achievement there is creeping upward. Yet, the board wants to close it!

The board, having absolutely no plan for generating revenue, plans to close schools as the only means to generate staff money, but the actual savings amounts to less than 1 percent of the overall budget! This miniscule amount will be wiped out by the operating costs of the new additions planned across the district.

School closings and the bond will provide no new resources for teachers and kids. Closing schools harms our most vulnerable students and neighborhoods. Other communities in Kansas have found ways to enhance revenues that don't include consolidation. Why not USD 497? Why aren't the pro-bond leaders, who are the elite in town, working to generate other revenues instead of working so hard to close these schools?

This community has for over 20 years consistently communicated to the district and school boards: Keep these schools open! The parents and residents associated with these schools are willing to make adjustments that come with keeping them open. Either the board is well-intentioned but out of touch with the community or they are willing to punish the most vulnerable students for pennies -- and use the most Machiavellian methods to do so. Just as the proposed additions in this bond will have no new program, this bond has no heart. Let's redo this bond and put some soul into it.

-- Jerry Schultz, Lawrence

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