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Archive for Monday, March 28, 2005

Supporters of Lawrence’s school bond issues chat online

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges, co-chairs of Vote Yes for Lawrence Kids, discuss tax increases and cuts in administrative salaries

March 28, 2005

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Supporters of Lawrence's school bond issues chat online

Welcome to our online chat with supporters of Lawrence's school bond issues.

The chat took place at 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 28, and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Welcome to our chat this afternoon. We will now get started.

Deborah, Lawrence: Thank you both for appearing online today. I am from the Centennial Neighborhood. Our Association has been doing demographic studies for the past seven years.

Apparently, there is information to suggest that if South Junior High is rebuilt at its current location, future enrollment will fall at Central Junior High.

Did the DLR Group originally recommend that a new SJHS be built further south of Lawrence to accommodate new growth patterns, and to avoid further school closures in the center of town?

Your thoughts are appreciated, and thanks again.

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: We are not aware of any recommendation that a Jr. High be built further south. Projections indicate that SJH would provide service to the student population for years to come.

Michelle: Instead of having such a high bond, why don't we cut some of the BIG WIGS salaries (I think they make way to much) And add that to the schools budget of what it needs. Do you think that will ever happen?

Thank you, Michelle

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: Michelle -- Thank you for your question. We have made significant cuts in administrative salaries in recent years. As those who have studied school finance recognize, we have cut to the bone in USD497 during times of reduced funding from the state of Kansas. The only source of funds for major building improvements and technology improvements is through a bond issue to be paid off through property taxes.

Mike, Lawrence: I have two questions regarding the school bond.

What is the cost difference between renovating the existing South Jr. High School versus tearing down the old school and building the new school?

What assurances can be made that the new construction will be high enough quality to not require repairs the following year (as has happened in other school districts of similar size)?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: If South Jr. High were renovated/retrofitted in lieu of building a new school, the difference would be approx. $4.5 million and we would end up with a less than state of the art facility. A new South would be much like the facility constructed at SWJH-Sunflower. While expansion there is appropriate - repairs are not an issue. We have an excellent model at SWJH for this construction.,

Merrill, Lawrence: This is an excellent opportunity to explain to many who are not clear as to what exactly is being done. There is a significant number who will not be able to attend the info meetings who need to be convinced. Also do either of you intend to pursue the construction of a Vocational Technical Institute?

Moderator: I would like to remind our readers that you can submit a question at any time during this chat.

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: First, an overview of what is proposed:

LHS - New science labs to replace the existing 40 year old labs; east gym entrance to enable the building to be secured during activities, locker rooms to replace the original locker rooms.

FSHS - INTRODUCTORY labs for technology. FSHS currently offers limited lab facilities. For example, intro Auto Tech is taught in a normal classroom without benefit of any type of automotive technology. Students do not experience the same level of education at the intro level to entice them into seeking additional technology education (housed at LHS). Central/SW and West will all receive additional classrooms that will eliminate portables (approx. 29 classrooms). Portables are not safe, they are not appropriate learning environments for many reasons. Additional gyms will be created at all 3 JH to accommodate activities/appropriate PE class sizes. SW will receive an expanded cafeteria to accommodate the population. The technology piece of the bond will provide equipment to support student activity, create avenues for better home-school communication, create additional learning opportunities, and upgrade our existing technology to accommodate today's learning environment (storage capacity, etc.).

Erv says, if he had it his way he'd "Build a new VoTech tomorrow" and I have to agree. As a board, we recognize that this is a gap in our present offering to students. The district and the Chamber are currently involved in study and discussion to create such a facility in keeping with our district goal of "Learning for All, Whatever it Takes".

Stephen: If the $8.9 million bond issue for technology passes, is there still going to be a $15 per student technology fee?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: As a board member, I am not aware of any discussions that have indicated any type of additional technology fee would be levied. With additional funding from the state, it has been the hope of the board that some existing fees can be reduced/eliminated.

James: There has been a great deal of discussion of how "little increase" an average taxpayer will shoulder if the bond issue passes. In the interest of sincerity, why hasn't there been figures included showing how much the average taxpayer currently contributes (more than half of our taxes go to education) plus, the total average increase a typical Lawrence business will incur?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: James -- You're correct in that we have discussed the fact that for every $100,000 in property value, taxes would increase approx. $2.16. The average mill levy this year for USD497 is 46.711 mills (down from 55.342 in 2001). Much of this decrease can be related to the increased property valuations in Lawrence. However, the school board ranks among the lowest in the state (for districts with growth) since 1992 when comparing "debt to assessed valuation". USD497 ranks 6.17% compared to Eudora with over 40%. Total mill levies (46.711) rank Lawrence well below Eudora, Baldwin, Dodge, Paola, Tonganoxie and Derby, for example.

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: As to the commercial piece of your question, we don't have an average of commercial properties.

Earl, Lawrence: Can you offer an explanation of why taxpayers should be willing to pay the district more money, while the school board didn't have the courage to close empty schools 10 years ago? Aren't we just being bamboozled by politicians to throw good money to poor money managers?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: In any community, the closing of schools is emotional. In recent history, school boards with the "courage' to close schools have been replaced with those who do not wish to see them closed. Our district did close schools in recent memory and this remains a sore point with many in the community. It is truly a balancing act. I believe that this board and administration have proposed a responsible that will support the major facility needs of our district for the immediate future (and allow capital outlay funds to address ongoing maintenance needs especially in the elementary schools).

Martin: Will there be funding available in this bond issue for the safety of my children such as camera systems in the high schools and junior highs that do not already have them. It is amazing to me that our schools, especially senior highs, do not have any type of video surveillance when they have been told by several agencies that they need them for safety. Eliminating portables is only part of the problem if our high schools are not willing to pay money for cameras. Is this not a liability issue as well?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: Bond funds must be utilized for the purpose intended. What could result is that the use of bond funds to take care of major needs would leave other capital outlay funds available to address any facility safety needs. The district has a 6 mil capital improvement levy (continuing) each and every year.

Mary, Lawrence: Why does it cost three times more money for the school district to construct a building than a private developer? It seems to me having a consultant tied into the construction is a conflict of interest. Your comments?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: We cannot accept the figure of "three times" cost over that a developer would realize. In house construction supervision and expertise is not adequate for facility construction/renovation of this type. It is normal for a school district to obtain construction management and we have, in this case, done so at or below market. Local architects will design the buildings should the bond pass.

Allison, Lawrence: Is it true that the bond includes a laptop for every student in certain grades? That seems ridiculous.

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: Allison - No that is not the plan although a wireless environment will allow better, more efficient utilization of laptops (that can be moved as needed throughout the district). As an aside, the bonds for technology will be paid off over a seven year period thus permitting improvements of technology as needs change/arise going forward. Teachers have told us that having access in their classrooms to "smart boards" that enable to share technology with students collectively is one of the biggest things we can do to support learning in the classroom.

Moderator: Well, we are out of questions. Is there anything else that you both would like to address?

Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges: Thank you for the opportunity! In approving the bond issue the Lawrence chamber indicated that "Preservation of our nationally-recognized education system is critical to attracting key decision makes and leaders to the community". In addition, we all know that a well-equipped education program is vitally important. Quality education is important in preparing our youth for the future. Education is a major quality of life issue. Maintaining safety, security in our classrooms is an essential piece of this bond issue as is equity and the promotion of educational environments that support learning. This bond issue is also fiscally responsible.

For additional information, please contact any board member or check out www.voteyesforkids.com or www.usd497.org. You may also contact Julie Boyle at 832-5000 for additional information. Thank you for participating in today's forum.

Moderator: That wraps up our chat this afternoon. We'd like to thank our readers and Cindy Yulich and Erv Hodges for joining us.

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