Archive for Saturday, January 3, 2004

New bond issue may be waiting in wings

District’s action hinges on state decisions

January 3, 2004


Lawrence school district officials will begin discussing late this spring a new bond issue to finance building improvements, Supt. Randy Weseman said Friday.

He said he expected the process to produce a package less costly and complicated than the $59 million proposal rejected by voters in April 2003. That plan included construction or renovation at 15 schools and was mingled with debate about elementary school consolidation.

"It won't be a bond issue that builds new schools," Weseman said. "It will address infrastructure. We have buildings that are going to need repairs."

There is no timetable for submitting another bond package to voters, he said.

Weseman said he would wait until after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius delivered her State of the State address Jan. 12 to the Legislature before pulling together a district budget committee and the school board for meetings on the district's 2004-2005 spending blueprint.

A Sebelius proposal for higher state spending on public education could influence the district's budget deliberations, he said.

Another key factor in the discussions would be response among legislators to a request from Douglas County for permission to place a half-cent sales tax increase for education on the ballot.

If the Legislature allows a public vote in Douglas County on the sales tax increase and voters in the county endorse the measure, an estimated $5.8 million annually could be raised for seven districts serving children in Douglas County. Of that total, $4.1 million would go to the Lawrence district.

"Without a tax increase," Weseman said, "I don't think anyone should expect to see additional funding for education."

Weseman said the Lawrence district's 2004-2005 budget would be built on the assumption enrollment would decline 100 to 140 students. That would cost the district approximately $250,000 in per-pupil state aid, he said.

He predicted the enrollment drop wouldn't spark serious discussion of closing more elementary schools.

"I think that we have the right number of facilities right now," he said.

The school board in May 2003 stopped using East Heights, Centennial and Riverside as elementary buildings. East Heights is an early-childhood facility and Centennial is mothballed. Riverside is the only building on the market.

The superintendent said another important ingredient in next year's budget debate would be a prediction that basic operating expenses -- employee health insurance, for example -- would rise at least $1 million.

In addition, he said, each 1 percent increase in employee salaries costs the district at least $500,000.

Internal budget cuts are a distinct possibility, Weseman said.

"With no increase from the state, in order to do salary increases, are we willing to give other things up?" he said.

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