The Lawrence school board finds itself in an enviable financial position as it plans for a bond issue to upgrade district buildings.
Board members are discussing a bond issue that may stretch over $50 million to replace South Junior High School and make improvements to other junior high and high school buildings in the district. A $59 million bond issue failed to pass in April 2003 amid several concerns including the size of the issue being sought. Many people probably were hoping the next attempt would be for an amount significantly below $50 million.
The good news, however, is that the Lawrence district is in good financial shape and has a percentage of debt that is much lower than that in many other Kansas districts. Lawrence has debt that equals about 6.5 percent of its total valuation; the statewide average is 11.6 percent.
The percentage of debt indicates the Lawrence district has done a good job of managing its debt by paying off bonds and spacing out new investments to control the overall amount the district owes. The evidence that bond funds have been handled well in the past may improve the chances that voters will look favorably on an additional bond issue.
The projects being considered are needed. Many public comments made prior to the last bond issue indicated that if voters could fund just one piece of the bond proposal it would be to replace South Junior High School. The ill-conceived school is a white elephant for the district. The estimated $20 million price tag for that project isn't going to go down, and the district might as well get on with the work.
Another goal of the bond issue is to eliminate portable classrooms at all of the district's junior highs, which also should be a popular item. The district also hopes to make improvements to equalize the facilities available at the city's two high schools. That's a worthy goal unless it duplicates facilities that could reasonably be shared by the two schools.
The Lawrence school board is in the early stages of developing a bond issue and will discuss the matter again in a public meeting Oct. 25. The success of a bond election will depend largely on whether the public is convinced there is a need and that the money will be distributed in a way that benefits students throughout the district.
A $50 million bond issue might not be an easy sell, but signs that the economy is turning around and the district's strong financial position will provide some strong selling points.