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Letters to the Editor

Real debate

February 16, 2010

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To the editor:

Lawrence citizens have repeatedly asked the school board for comprehensive budget information. Only summary reports are published on the district Web site, and the budget documents available at the district office are not current and contain numerous significant entries with vague descriptions like “miscellaneous.”

Why is it so difficult to get useful information about our school budget? Other cities, including Manhattan, publish the complete budget online, and involve the public integrally in the analysis and planning.

School board members seem to believe they are operating openly and with transparency because they permit citizens to speak at public meetings. Our elected officials don’t seem to get it yet. We are not just requesting an audience; we want a seat at the table.

The budget is tight, to be sure. But that does not justify compromising our democratic ideals or giving up on the things we hold dear. Even in times of crisis, openness should not give way to opacity, and expediency is never a substitute for consensus. Until the school board meets minimum standards of transparency, the people of Lawrence should presume there are ways to address current fiscal challenges without resorting to draconian measures like shuttering schools.

The decisions we make today will profoundly affect the fabric of our community for generations to come. So instead of giving us “false choices” borne out of haste, the district should open its books to the public and engage us in a real debate about OUR priorities for our schools and neighborhoods.

Stacey Wohlford,

Lawrence

Comments

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

How does USD 497 plan to fund the cost of operations and maintenance of the sports extravaganza considering it was built in tight economic times? The Chamber of Commerce wanted this in hopes this would sell more homes that sit vacant. Taxpayers indicated they did not want to spend anywhere near $20 million for such a project.

http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/may/should_city_spend_20_million_or_more_play_project/

Why did USD 497 do it? Planning division director Tom Bracciano did indicate in the LJW that this was indeed a phase of PLAY.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Save Our Neighborhood Schools has identified cost savings of over $5.5 million. There are many ways to bridge the budget gap and these are just a few suggestions. We hope the board considers cost savings that protect students, teachers, schools and neighborhoods.

http://www.saveourneighborhoodschools.com/budget-outline/

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

A group of parents who don’t want the Lawrence school board to close any elementary schools because of a $5 million budget deficit came out in force again at a public forum at Southwest Junior High School on Monday night.

And one parent said the discussion about budget cuts was framed incorrectly because talk of closing schools came up so early.

“We’re coming up with ideas. I think more of the community could be coming up with ideas if they were feeling equally pinched,” said Josh Davis, a New York School parent.

The school board is considering several options to slash the district’s budget before next school year because of the state’s budget crisis and an increase in health insurance costs.

Scott Morgan, the board president, said he originally mentioned closing schools to illustrate “everything was on the table” when he found out how deep the cuts would have to go.

“People reacted strongly. It’s not necessarily what I wanted them to do, but it’s what I wanted them to know,” Morgan said.

Board members have received a list of administrative, classified staff and program cuts that total about $3 million, including cuts to school nurses, guidance counselors and librarians. They have also discussed increasing the student-teacher ratio, which saves roughly $1 million at each increase of one student. It would cut about 20 teaching positions at each increase as well.

Administrators have said closing an elementary school would save between $400,000 to $600,000 each.

A group, Save Our Neighborhood Schools, has said the district — without closing schools — has budget options to save $5 million through accounting efficiencies and other changes, such as reducing the number of administrators at the high schools.

Most of the speakers at the forum in west Lawrence urged the board not to close schools, saying it would affect neighborhoods, particularly in east Lawrence.

A few others voiced concerns that a higher student-teacher ratio would make classes even more crowded at the larger elementary schools, such as Sunflower School in west Lawrence. One parent urged the board to keep in mind how the private sector would operate in tough times.

In response, Nancy Hamilton, a Hillcrest School parent opposed closing any elementary schools, said, “Our kids aren’t widgets.”

Jill Fincher, a Sunflower parent and site council member, said she wanted the crowd to think about what services could be cut if no schools were closed.

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cowboy 4 years, 7 months ago

Great letter , put the budget with detail online USD 497.

Merrill , please stop all the cut and pste , no one reads your drivel

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Oracle_of_Rhode 4 years, 7 months ago

Great letter! I agree wholeheartedly.

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wolfy 4 years, 7 months ago

You have to go down to the district offices and pay $9.50 for a hard copy of the 09-10 budget, which apparently does not contain current budget information. Useful budget materials should be on line for all to see. We also need more detail, particularly in regard to entries titled "other", which makes up 10% (approx. $14 million) of the budget! And though we've been given estimates of the $$ the district might be able to save if schools were shuttered, where is the analysis of the real costs of closing schools (e.g.,erosion of tax base, transportation reconfiguration, etc.)? This process has been so rushed, amateurish and opaque. No wonder people feel like this is a railroad job. Come on, school board! We're not sheep.

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areyousure 4 years, 7 months ago

Who is responsible for the what is put on the website? The board or the district administrators? Perhaps, your suggestion should be directed to the district office. After all, they prepare the information. The board members work with the information that is given to them.

And remember, the sports fields were part of a bond issue passed how many years ago? The decision to build those fields were made by the voters before the current budget problems. It wasn't until the end of the project that the state budget tanked. By that time, the only thing left to decide was what type concession stand and restrooms to build.

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beaujackson 4 years, 7 months ago

Public input goes in one ear & out the other at both 497 board & city comm. meetings.

Both are "all knowing - all caring" - they listen, but do comprehend or care about public input.

You always get what you pay for, especially when spending taxpayer's money.

City offices & 497 are overloaded with administrators & opaque budgets

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 7 months ago

"And remember, the sports fields were part of a bond issue passed how many years ago? The decision to build those fields were made by the voters before the current budget problems."

No such decision was made by the voters. The bond issue as it was sold to voters never included the athletic fields. Those were an "afterthought" when money was left over from projects the bond issue was originally supposed to cover.

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jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

Thank you, bozo.

The bond was for "capital improvements". When I voted for it, I thought it was for such items as maintenance/repair/upgrade of ancient buildings, heating and cooling systems, etc.

I would never have knowingly voted for a $3 million expenditure for athletic fields.

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Phil Minkin 4 years, 7 months ago

There is a meeting of the SOS group at 10am at the library on Sat. Come with ideas and energy to save our schools and our neighborhoods.

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ResQd 4 years, 7 months ago

Maybe I've missed something along the road of reading these posts, but has the school board looked at how other Kansas districts are cutting their budgets? I'm also wondering how many of the people who are trying to save the schools have actually tried to get a position on the school board in the past and or future? Maybe it's time.

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areyousure 4 years, 7 months ago

Whether it was made by the voters or the board, the decision to build the fields was made before the current budget crisis. The money was there. It had to be spent on capital outlays.

Not closing schools does not mean that classes won't be larger. If money isn't saved by closing schools, then it will have to be saved in other ways. And if the board and district have, as so many of you seem to believe, a secret agenda that includes protecting the administrative posititons, that leaves laying off teachers and school support staff. Less teachers - less classrooms being used. The buildings may be open but the rooms may be empty. With all the buildings open, equalizing classroom size might mean moving children from one school to another. How does that happen - changing boundaries so that enrollment is evened out? Busing groups of children from one part of town to another?

Be careful what you wish for - the end result may not be as you pictured. The schools may all be open but will they be the schools that we want. It could be worse - KC, MO has closing half their schools on the table. Look through the paper (or scroll through). There isn't enough money to go around. Businesses don't want to pay unemployment taxes now that the need is greater and they paid less when the need was less. Every part of the state that relies on tax money whether it is property taxes, sales taxes or income tax is hurting. Perhaps we just need to accept that our wants may have to take a reality check. Suck it up and provide the best education that we can for the kids. Last time I looked, it was the teachers that taught the kids, not the building.

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wolfy 4 years, 7 months ago

AREYOUSURE makes some good arguments but seems to miss the main point. Which is that we all should have been involved in the process of outlining options for solving the budget crisis, and only after detailed budget information had been widely disseminated. As the letter points out, haste has given rise to "false dilemma" thinking like the recent LJW poll which asked: "Should we close elementary schools or junior high schools?" Who the heck knows! So Neither is the best answer until we have enough information and real debate to identify and weigh all available options.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

For those who claim to be concerned about tax increases wouldn't be best for all if USD 497 taxpayers could have approved the USD 487 sports extravaganza?

Should we USD 497 taxpayers have the right to approve USD 497 expenditures as a matter of policy?

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puckstah 4 years, 7 months ago

How much $ does the district have in unemcumbered funds that they aren't claiming they have? Are we in Lawrence/USD 497 guilty of what many legislators in Topeka are claiming???? Could this be why there is no transparency?

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wolfy 4 years, 7 months ago

Pilgrim2 says: "It's called representative government."

If your definition of "representative government" involves suppression of information and dissent, you are way off. A better word for this would be "fascism." I'll grant you we elect public officials to represent our interests. And of course ever board meeting can not be conducted as a town hall meeting. But this thing we call democracy works best when the people who have given their consent to be governed remain well-informed and energetic, and demand broad-based accountability from their elected officials.

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