The proposed $59 million bond issue for Lawrence public schools voters will find on the Tuesday ballot has been a controversial topic of discussion among residents for the past several months.
Here is a summary of the pros and cons of the issue as described by the Lawrence chapter of the League of Women Voters. The league is neutral on the issue.
- State law prohibits districts from raising taxes for operational costs such as teachers and programs, but districts are allowed to ask the community to provide funds for facilities. This bond would allow the district to take care of many overdue maintenance issues.
- The plan is a result of extensive review of all school facility needs and reflects long-range planning.
- The proposal promotes equity of educational offerings in the district by addressing baseline needs of all schools.
- The proposal is based on both two- and three-section schools. The district wants to make all elementary schools at least two-section schools. The majority of the district's teachers have said they want to teach in a school where they have at least one other grade-level peer with whom to collaborate and co-teach.
- The master plan and educational programming model commits full-time resource staff in a variety of specialties to all schools, thereby providing needed extra resources to the two-section schools with high-need students.
- Research shows that, all things being equal, students in small classes achieve at higher levels, particularly at-risk children and those from low-income families. Schools with at least two sections for each grade offer greater opportunity to achieve small class sizes and avoid combination classes.
- Passage of the bond could free funds to provide an additional $1.4 million in annual operational funds, or about $140 per pupil per year.
- The bond issue invests in the core of the city, with $43 million of the $59 million of the bond proceeds being spent on buildings that are east of Iowa Street. Even with the proposed consolidations, virtually every family living in those neighborhoods will be less than a mile from an operating elementary school.
- No new buildings would be built in the community's growth areas. All of the money goes into the existing facilities.
- The plan eliminates the use of portable classrooms, which were designed as temporary fixes.
- The plan solves safety and accessibility issues and addresses asbestos. It also addresses infrastructure needs such as heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical.
- A total of $6.8 million has been allocated to renovate Lawrence Alternative High School because the current facility is inadequate. The bond proposal allows for an expanded program to serve more students and to add ninth-graders. Costs are in line with what the community spent per student for Free State High School.
- This plan prepares the district for the future by taking care of current facilities and positioning the district to address community growth to the northwest, west and southeast.
- The district's bonded indebtedness is low compared with districts of similar size in this area.
- This is an opportune time for a bond because of low interest rates, a favorable market and a competitive construction market.
- The bond issue unfairly joins together two disparate issues: new school facilities and school closings. There is no way to vote for needed renovations without also appearing to support school closings.
- The proposal to consolidate schools ignores the interrelationship between schools and neighborhoods.
- Closing eastside schools is educationally and morally questionable. Children in that area are the most vulnerable with a large proportion in the free and reduced-cost lunch program. These smaller schools are better able than larger schools to provide for their special needs in reading, writing and mathematics.
- Research shows that small schools with about 150 students are best for at-risk students.
- No positive correlation has been established between the building projects proposed by the bond issue and better teaching and learning.
- The consulting firm, DLR of Overland Park, will receive contingency fees of about 5 percent of the full amount of the bond for program and construction management services, in addition to consulting fees already paid.
- A better bond issue could be created and tailored to the vision of the community.
- Projected annual savings of $1.4 million from the school closings are probably illusory. The district estimated savings of $240,000 annually by closing Grant School, but only $55,000 of that has been identified. Some of the money saved in operational funds will be paid on the interest on the bonds.
- The $1.4 million that may become available in additional operating funds doesn't come close to making up for recent budget cuts. The district can obtain sufficient operational funding only through the Kansas Legislature.
- The bond issue allocates $6.8 million to expand the alternative high school, which serves fewer students than either of the neighborhood elementary schools that would be closed.
- The consulting firm's proposal is a 20-year-plan, yet all the money raised by the bond will be borrowed and spent in the first three years.
- There are a lot of projects in this proposal to manage effectively. It should not all be done in one bond issue. Proper planning can't be done in one year.
- Not all of the projects are high priority. It may be necessary to replace South Junior High School, but it does not need emergency replacement now. Some delays also could be accommodated in the improvements to Lawrence High School's locker and weight training rooms and the gymnasium entrance.
- The district has done little to plan for growth and change. The bond covers no new construction in growth areas and it is likely to ask for the passage of another bond issue to pay for new facilities in the future.
- The proposed bond issue is too high. The district has $61.2 million of earlier bonds to be paid off. It is too great a burden to place on residents at this time.