An election may be on the horizon this spring for Lawrence voters.
Lawrence school board members on Monday night explored asking for a property tax increase that would generate an estimated $680,000 that could fund raises for teachers and help to provide mental health services.
It would be an effort to tap an extra 1 percent into what is called the local option budget (or LOB) and would put the district at 31 percent of its state funding, the maximum allowed under law. Administrators also estimate the district will get just more than $1 million in unrestricted state funds for next year.
Board vice president Craig Grant called increasing the LOB a necessity and stressed the money could be used to boost teacher and staff salaries.
"My initial reaction is we're going to have to do this," he said.
Mary Loveland voiced frustration with the recent change in state law that now requires an election for school districts to increase their local option budget. Before, taxpayers would have to protest the increase to require an election.
Loveland said seeking the extra LOB funds was probably "unavoidable" because of demands on the budget, but she stopped short of endorsing it.
"I don't have enough information. I'm not at peace with it yet," she said.
Other board members asked for more specific information about the property tax increase before they make a decision, likely on Jan. 28. Superintendent Randy Weseman said it would likely amount to a half-mill increase for taxpayers.
Grant said he could see the public approving the extra funds if proponents stressed staff raises and other needs.
A plan presented a possible election date of April 1, and it would cost the district an estimated $43,000 because no county election is planned that day, County Clerk Jamie Shew has told administrators.
In other budget talks Monday, school board members also heard it would cost an estimated $12.2 million to overhaul practice facilities, including installing more artificial surface fields and adding more lights at Free State High School and adding fields and parking at Lawrence High School.
The district is still talking with Haskell Indian Nations University leaders about improving Haskell Stadium, where both high school football teams compete.
Board members did unanimously authorize administrators to explore how the financing tool performance contracting could help pay for projects, such as adding artificial field surfaces and lights.
In a 5-2 vote, board members also agreed to designate an expected $2.4 million leftover in bond money and interest from the 2005 bond issue to help begin planning to improve the high school outdoor athletic facilities.
Marlene Merrill and Rich Minder dissented and said that much of a commitment was unnecessary at this point.
"Even though it was a split vote, everybody is committed to essentially the same goal here," board member Scott Morgan said.
Unrelated to outdoor athletic facilities, board members also unanimously authorized administrators to seek bids on an estimated $1.4 million worth of projects, such as $510,000 to complete security camera installations and $200,000 to repair district sidewalks. As part of the consent agenda, the board also approved a $80,240 bid to install lights at the Free State softball field.