Archive for Sunday, December 6, 2009

With eye on future, district spends $1.7 million on land

December 6, 2009


The Lawrence school district has paid $1.73 million to purchase a prime piece of property that would be prominent along the proposed route of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

At their Oct. 26 meeting, school board members approved the purchase of 76 acres of farm and pasture ground southeast of Lawrence. The property, near the intersection of East 1750 and North 1300 roads, would be just west of where the South Lawrence Trafficway would connect with the existing Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.

School district leaders said they did not have a firm plan for the property, but said it could be used for a future school site or a new outdoor campus and wellness center that is gaining momentum with Bill Self’s Assists Foundation and also with a private board led by Lawrence businessman John McGrew.

“The answer of what we’re going to do with it right now is nothing because we have no money for it,” school board member Scott Morgan said of the land.

Instead, Morgan said the purchase came after the previous school board instructed staff members to look for land opportunities south of Lawrence because that is where the largest amount of undeveloped land in the district is located.

“I don’t think people realize how much of the school district is south of the Wakarusa River,” Morgan said. “We’re not growing much now, but I think there is a pretty good chance that we’ll grow again.”

District leaders said they were sensitive to concerns about spending money on property at the same time that some school board members — including Morgan — have suggested the district may need to consider closing schools in the future.

Frank Harwood, chief operations officer for the district, said the money the school district used for the purchase came from the district’s capital outlay fund. By state law, that money can’t be used for teacher salaries or other operational expenses.

“That pot of money can’t be used to pay for running schools that we would be looking to close,” Harwood said. “If we could have used that money on general fund expenses, we wouldn’t have made this purchase.”

Harwood and Morgan also said it was proper for the district to be considering future school sites at the same time that it may have to close some existing schools. Morgan said the district was acting responsibly by buying property ahead of development, and looking forward to the day that new areas of town will need to be served by schools.

“If you are buying land the day you need to build something, you have done something wrong because then everybody knows you need it and the price will be high,” Morgan said. “If we take a little heat now for this decision, it will be well worth it in terms of the gift that we will have given to some future school board. It is something that will help future school boards immensely.”

Harwood also believes the purchase represents little risk to the district. He said if the district discovers that the site is not well-suited for its purposes, it is likely that the property will draw heavy interest from developers because of its location.

At 76 acres, the site is also large enough that part of the property could be used for a school and the balance could be sold for a profit. An elementary school, for example, generally needs about 25 acres.

The school district purchased the property from P.D.O. Investors, a Lawrence-based group led by Steve Glass, the former owner of LRM Industries.


bearded_gnome 8 years, 6 months ago

Outdoor campus? wellness center? WTH? is this a lawrence district activity center of the future?

mdrndgtl 8 years, 6 months ago

A school board presiding over a district that must close schools to meet their budget decides to purchase some land big enough for a future school alongside a road that has yet to be built.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 6 months ago

"The school district purchased the property from P.D.O. Investors, a Lawrence-based group led by Steve Glass, the former owner of LRM Industries."

This is probably a bigger indication of why the school district bought land it doesn't need with money it doesn't have.

OutlawJHawk 8 years, 6 months ago

$20,000+ an acre for Really??? Was this sold as beach front property, with the beach lining the Wakarusa River? And this assumes that Lawrence growth moves South...

The money could have been used to build additions on existing schools...except on the ones being closed????

Of course additions on schools would mean kids would have to give-up using portables, which I assume is important district curricula teaching children about the economic diversity of trailer life.

Stephen Roberts 8 years, 6 months ago

I think this a great move by the school board and the district.

Buy more land to build "somethin" on it using capital outlay money. No real estate taxes have to be paid, no real up keep.

Discuss the possibilities of having to close schools because of not having enough money to fund operations from the general funds.

Start to hear from Tom B. that he needs more capital outlay money every year because the buildings are old and need more repairs. The repairs would exceed the capital outlay money.

Propose a new bond issue to fix up the schools - "for the kids". Make sure to inflate the costs, to allow to use any left over money for other project. Schools are in bad shape and we need to fix them. People here in Lawrence are apt to buy into tax increases to help fund education "needs".

When bond issue passes- use the most of it and claim that you saved money and use it to build soemthing on the land you bought before.

Then repeat cycle. It is a great plan.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 6 months ago

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools?

What we have is the USD 497 Chamber of Commerce.

This whole idea of buying land aka speculation and NOT KNOWING exactly why is irresponsible and unacceptable use of USD 497 tax dollars.

The UDS 497 BOD just paid $22,763.16 per acre. This matter needs serious review. Both the expenditure on the athletic project and this land speculation could have been applied to the badly needed building maintanance of existing resources.

$22,763.16 an acre for land in a recession is not a good deal. In fact it is never a good deal when buying land for public school property.

In fact all of the real estate companies that have purchased property along the route should have set aside property for public school use INSTEAD of tax payers footing the bill. My guess if the taxpayers had an opportunity to vote on this matter it would have gone down in flames as reckless spending.

HEY all farmers in the Douglas County area take notice. Your asking price should now be 65,000 -$100,000 per acre when real estate people come knocking on your door.

Why did USD 497 bail out this bad investment???

tomatogrower 8 years, 6 months ago

I think we need to get some different board members next election.
And we need to write our reps in Topeka, and ask why capital outlay budgets are so inflexible. During times of recession some capital outlay expenditures can be delayed and the money put back into general funds, but Topeka doesn't allow for it. Why? How is buying this land at an inflated price going to educate our children? How can a board ask teachers to not buy books and use paper, but they can overpay for land? And have students and teachers doing janitorial work? But there is money for sports? Are our priorities screwed, or what?

jackson5 8 years, 6 months ago

Chad - can you put a link to where this appears in the school board minutes (or where the mention of an executive session is noted?) I am looking for the address. Is this the PDO property appraised at around $230,000?

bearded_gnome 8 years, 6 months ago

so, once again in economic hard times, Merrill says here's another tax: he calls it setting aside land for schools that would otherwise be sold...take property, sort of illegal anyway. but another form of tax.

hey Merrill, you doing any of your touted 'nude hiking' this weekend?

the weather's fine for it!

KsTwister 8 years, 6 months ago

50% of your property taxes are going to the schools. If kids were getting high class,high dollar educations I would not care. Lawrence gets mostly athletic and new building costs for their property tax dollars and until the people of this city stand up and say 'no' then the only shining example of good education is going to be the lights over the playing fields. There is a better use for your hard earned tax dollars and this isn't it. Fleeced is right!!!

Richard Heckler 8 years, 6 months ago

Local voters need the power to vote on new projects that which impact our tax bills and our cost of living which is most every agenda item with the city commission. Our governing body,the city and planning commissions, are loaded with conflicts of interest.

USD 497,City Commission and County Commission purchases of real estate need approval of the taxpayers.

I say voting taxpayers can make the most fiscal responsible decisions. Certainly cannot be anymore irresponsible. Give taxpayers power over their tax dollars and the ability to create economic growth NOT economic displacement. This vote can happen every second Tuesday in November.

Tune in on Tuesdays at 6:45 PM to see what elected officials are doing. The same goes for the school board. All governing bodies NEED very active watchdogs.

Over built retail is anti economic growth and bad for business = more irresponsible government decisions.

It is imperative that communities conduct market capacity studies to understand their market potential, before any vote can be taken on USD 497, retail,residential or light industrial proposals.

Communities are increasingly demanding applicants to underwrite the cost of an independent analysis to determine the market capacity and the economic impact.

Citizen taxpayers deserve to know how new development will impact USD 497, property taxes, sales tax revenue and other businesses in the community.

All new development is often mistaken for economic development when instead it is likely promoting economic displacement instead of economic growth thus reckless spending of tax dollars. Generally the people it affects the most are least likely to understand it.

Could this be a reason for our extraordinarily high taxes? Could this be a reason Lawrence is the most expensive place to live and do business in Kansas?

The big box corporations are waging a war of indoctrination. They need us as accomplices in the destruction of our own hometowns.

Every developer that comes before a City or Planning Commission make their projects sound like they were written in Lake Wobegon where all the site plans are good looking and the economic impacts above average.

The symptoms of retail saturation are everywhere aka empty buildings = economic displacement

Our governing bodies must remember there are still only so many tax and retail dollars available in any community and Lawrence is but a small town surrounded by established commercial competition aka kcmo/joco ,Olathe,The Legends and Topeka Metro.

been_there 8 years, 6 months ago

What did you think would happen when Mary (everyone has as much money as I do) Loveland got back on the school board? Why do you think she got voted off in the first place? All she had to do was sit back and wait till there was a whole new batch of voters in town. Remember this when its time to vote again.

WilburM 8 years, 6 months ago

Item #1 in Topeka this session. A short-term (three years) suspension of the provision that capital outlay funds can't be used for programmatic needs. While school boards have the obligation to be forward looking, they must also address current concerns. Present laws do not give them the flexibility to do this. Keeping the accounts separate makes sense, but not to the exclusion of saving decent programs and holding firm on class size in the face of a fiscal emergency.

Things do seem out of whack.

been_there 8 years, 6 months ago

Doesn't the LJW have a reporter that covers school board meetings? Seems odd no story appeared about such a large and controversial purchase. School board needs to repeal or reduce the tax break to the Oread Hotel and the state should have put a freeze on capital outlay funds except for repairs and maintenance till the vote on the suspension is decided. You can bet that school districts like ours are rushing to spend that money frivolously before it can be used elsewhere.

50YearResident 8 years, 6 months ago

This farm land will be unused until the Trafficway is compleated. That is "if" the trafficway is ever completed. Which at this time is not very likely.

workinghard 8 years, 6 months ago

Quote from Vanessa Sanburn's page on the school districts web page "Make decisions based on facts and sound scientific data, not on ideology; •Effectively engage community members in the decision-making process." What happened Vanessa?

puddleglum 8 years, 6 months ago

looks like south lawrence porkway is alive and well! (again)

Boston_Corbett 8 years, 6 months ago

only 4 posts from JackRipper? Meds must be kicking in.

tomatogrower 8 years, 6 months ago

And of course these investors who made such a big profit from of our tax dollars are going to create some jobs with the money. Not!!! I would like a list of all the people invested in this group, not just the "leader". I'll bet some of them are buddies with or related to the school board members. Reporters, do your job for a change and tell us who else is going to profit from this sale.

asacollier 8 years, 6 months ago

Look at who is doing what, here kids. I understand the separate funds thing, that makes sense in a corporate sense. But, yeah $20,000 an acre. Wellness center? The board rejected the Lawrence Environmental Schools Charter in 2008. Wellness?
This should have been less than half this price. Our "Public" school board is mockery. It would seem this group acts on there own behalf with our money. Politics and pay-off. I won't forget any of the board members who's actions deter from our schools. Those who place their political career above the needs of our children.

Lori Nation 8 years, 6 months ago

All I can say is you all should be ashamed or yourselves!!! You cut transportation, and kids are struggling to learn here in this district and we are hearing about paper shortage, and teachers losing their jobs. Not to mention your dumb tax break you gave to Mt.Oread Inn when these schools could use that help. You really spent money on a piece of land for the future. Instead of making this district big on sports and athletic fields you need to spend the money on these kids NOW for your future. You all should be kicked off the board for this one!!!!

notajayhawk 8 years, 6 months ago

"With eye on future, district spends $1.7 million on land"

Their 'eye on the future' is causing them to trip over their own feet today.

Yes, it makes some sense to plan for the future. But when your house is on fire right now, it's not the proper time to sit down and start planning what color to paint it tomorrow. Maybe it would be better to figure out how to get the kids safely to school today rather than worrying about how to build a school close by where some other kids might be living in the future.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 6 months ago

"Local voters need the power to vote on new projects that which impact our tax bills " ======== Someone needs to move to ancient Greece so they can enjoy direct democracy. We have a representative republic, kind sir.

uneekness 8 years, 5 months ago

Here are some starters: 1) Cut principal positions in half. Each principal oversees two schools.

2) Cut administrative positions at headquarters. For instance, why does the district have a communications director? Outsource to a PR firm for a fraction of the salary, and give emergency duties to the superintendent.

3) Go back to full day Wednesdays. Shave a week or more off the calendar - no busing or feeding 10,000+ kids, or cleaning and lighting the schools isn't insignificant for that period of time

4) Talk to the teachers about a small (2%-3%) pay cut. I know some think that's impossible, but without it, many will lose their jobs. Combine it with other ideas, everybody can stay. The idea may have some traction, but you never know if you don't ask.

5) Charge higher fees for city rec or other use of facilities. A lot of basketball gets played in those gyms on evenings and weekends, and it always seems some church group or another is using space on the weekends. Pay to play.

6) Close down the athletic facilities of one of the high schools. Yes, by law the funds used to build the new facilities couldn't have been used for salaries. But what about their maintenance and upkeep? Can we close them down until the crisis passes?

7) About that capital fund versus salaries business. Let's also try and make the case in Topeka to grant a waiver during the crisis. Surely the Legislature would be receptive to letting themselves off the hook for some of the lost funding. But then again, the development lobby would probably work to block a move, because if it went through, there wouldn't be any more $2 million property purchase boondoggles during the recession like this:

Richard Heckler 7 years, 11 months ago

By George Diepenbrock

July 4, 2010

Lawrence school board members last week learned they have another difficult budget decision to make — just months after they cut expenditures by $4.6 million.

This time, the heated discussion will involve a potential property tax increase, as administrators say the district will suffer from an expected slight decline in property valuation. During a budget preview session last week, administrators discussed the possibility of a 5.3-mill increase if valuation in the district went down 1 percent.

=================================================================== Perhaps it is time to put the lavish admin building on the market to help cover cost of new athletic project. Admin likely could share space in the Virtual School building thereby making USD 497 admin a part of the community. AND put this admin building back on property tax rolls.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.