Archive for Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Legal concerns delay repairs at school district buildings

February 13, 2007

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About $1 million worth of maintenance and repair projects - from new roofs to electronic door systems - were given the OK Monday night by Lawrence's school board.

But there's still a major question of what will happen to about $9 million worth of other projects the board wants to complete.

That's because there are legal issues regarding the use of "performance contracts" to help the district pay for those maintenance and repair projects without raising taxes.

In January, the board approved about $10 million in projects. To do so, it used a combination of capital outlay funds and leftover funds from bond issues approved by voters in 1998 and 2005.

But the bulk of the repair projects were to be funded by a new tool called performance contracts.

Performance contracts are low-interest loans that can be used for projects that provide energy savings over the term of the loan.

After much discussion and deciding how many projects to fund, the board approved $7 million in those contracts, at an interest rate of 4.45 percent over 19 years, pending a legal review.

That legal review has raised some red flags, which are still being resolved, according to Sue Morgan, board president.

Morgan said the board still was seeking confirmation from the state that it was meeting all the statutory provisions required for performance contracts.

"And that's going to take some time for us to pursue," she said. "It may delay things by a year more than we had hoped."

Morgan called the delay "a big disappointment."

"But I want to be, as does every other board member, very sure that we're in compliance with what we need to be in compliance with," she said. "The last thing we want to do is put the district at risk in any way in pursuing this."

Meanwhile, Tom Bracciano, the district's director of facilities and operations planning, recommended the board go ahead and approve some projects so they can be done this summer when students are out of the buildings.

He gave the board a list of about 30 projects that could be funded with capital outlay funds or leftover funds from the 1998 and 2005 bond issues.

Sue Morgan, Lawrence's school board president, discusses problems with performance contracts

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One of the major projects is $214,000 to recoat the roof at the district's Educational Support and Distribution Center, 101 McDonald Drive.

The projects also included:

¢ $100,000 to install a long-distance learning facility at the ESDC building that will be used by high school students who wish to take classes offered outside of Lawrence, such as the Chinese language classes being offered at Kansas University's Edwards Campus in Johnson County.

¢ Installing "proximity card access systems" at about a dozen schools that will allow more centralized control over who can access certain buildings. Each system costs between about $25,000 and $42,000.

¢ Installing classroom doors that lock from the inside at Central Junior High ($63,000) and at Pinckney School ($22,000). A federal grant is expected to pay for about $50,000 of those two projects.

In other action, the board:

¢ Heard a report about school enrollment demographics from Rob Schwarz of RSP & Associates. Morgan said the report would help the district plan staffing for next year, particularly in its English as a Second Language program. The ESL program, which is now conducted at Hillcrest and Cordley schools, is expected to grow from 531 students this year to 650 students in 2007-2008 and to 928 students by 2011-2012 .

¢ Heard a report on the Prairie Park Reading First Summer School Intervention program.

¢ Heard a report on American Indian student services.

¢ Recognized the Free State High School Class 6A Four-Speaker Debate State Champions: Wes Phipps, Sarah Robinson, Kate Falkenstien and Cori Allen.

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