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Letters to the Editor

Hidden agenda?

February 28, 2010

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To the editor:

Weeks ago, the USD 497 administration solicited community assistance to find creative ways to close the budget shortfall. After significant haggling, parents finally gained access to closely guarded spreadsheets depicting where our tax dollars go. Multiple people representing many diverse views developed creative, reasonable options that preserve educational programs, limit class size and prevent school closures.

Responding to significant pressure from parents, the administration provided a table of incomplete and illogical phrases on the USD 497 Web site as a response. At board meetings, we are given illogical and rambling statements, and comments about how communities can simply “rebuild” if a school is closed. Is the choice, as some would have us believe, simply between closing schools vs. preserving class size and educational programs?

An analysis of class sizes with school closures suggests this is not the case, but input like this isn’t being publicized or discussed. As with budget ideas, this input is dismissed. No, the real choice is between intelligent use of dwindling tax dollars vs. succumbing to the siren call of purported efficiency.

If the administration wants this community to understand why closing schools is the most efficient option, they need to address us directly, fully discuss our suggestions with us, and tell us in a transparent manner why our incorporation of externalities into the equations really isn’t efficient. Anything less is disrespectful, particularly after soliciting our input, and implies a hidden agenda. My 4-year-old understands about personal responsibility in relationships. Why can’t our elected officials and administration?

Sharon Billings,

Lawrence

Comments

cato_the_elder 4 years, 10 months ago

Ms. Billings, I have five words of encouragement for you: Run For The School Board. Your letter is genuine. Your views, and those of like-minded people with you, will not be effectively represented unless you gain seats on our Board of Education. Yes, that doesn't solve the immediate problem, but what is done can often be undone, and the threat of just that has been known to create positive results for the present. This current controversy has galvanized enough of the community that we ought to see many more candidates for seats on our Board of Education prior to the next election. Will we? It's up to you.

tantrazoid 4 years, 10 months ago

Sharon Billings hit the nail on the head. Please run for school board.

Robert Kidder 4 years, 10 months ago

Sharon, I hate to do this to someone I respect and admire, but - Billings for School Board!! There is no doubt that at least half of the School Board does have an agenda. It is an agenda as old as Mary Loveland's tenure on the Board: Consolidation of elementary schools.

The Board is using Rahm Emanuel's advise, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. But, what I mean by that is, it is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before." Closing elementary schools and reconfiguration has been on and off the agenda for nearly twenty years. The Board has only been successful in closing schools during a crisis.

Thank you for the accurate summary of Board behavior.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

You go Sharon Billings!

How about a complete audit?

Really now USD 497 taxpayers need to have wriiten into law no major projects without approval of USD 497 taxpayers. That vote can wait until a scheduled election period as no projects is so dire.

PUT IT TO THE VOTERS!!!

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 10 months ago

I second (or third) Bob and Multidisciplinary's comments on the School Board's agenda. Closing Schools does not save money, as proven by the school district's annual budgets for the years following closure. There has been a long history of Morgan and Loveland pushing for closure of our smaller, more unique schools. You only have to go to the JW archives and search their names, to find numerous examples of this. Mary Loveland has stated that larger classes and schools are in line with the Districts modern form of education. Funny, I thought that according to current educational studies, it has been found that smaller schools, and smaller classes, in particular, benefit elementary students the most. Another no-brainer: smaller classes = more attention from teacher= better achievement. See stats in Wakarusa Valley School political ad in todays JW for more information. I wonder how well some at risk kids in our smaller schools would do if they were uprooted, and moved to larger classes. I wonder what that would do to our state assessment scores. Okay, now I'm rambling. But really, read the ad.

beaujackson 4 years, 10 months ago

When has 497 administration NOT had "hidden agendas"

They had several "hidden agendas" in 1991, i.e., closing Centennial in order to build athletic fields. Keeping Cordley was a ruse to further this hidden agenda. Records of meeting show (that) when asked if athletic fields were (their) reason for closing Centennial, the administration said "no", which was a big fat lie!

The 497 administration (and BOE) have had "hidden agendas" and told countless lies for the past 10 years, especially in their push for duplicate grandiose athletic facilities.

Lawrence taxpayers have been "sucker -punched" by both 497 administrators & the BOE for years.

A good "house cleaning is long overdue.

kugrad 4 years, 10 months ago

I am strongly in favor of neighborhood schools. That being said, I do not believe there is a hidden agenda among board members. Perhaps some administrators who preceeded Dr. Doll have visions of how they would like the district to look, but I don't think the board has concensus on much, let alone a hidden plan. What I really appreciate about this LTE is the call for transparency and dialouge. If the board is truly considering proposals, they need to be, in public, very specific as to the reasons they would adopt or reject the input they asked for.
It should be much easier for citizens to gain access to current budget information. In my opinion, during Randy Weseman's term as superintendant, a pattern that dates back at least 2 or 3 supt's came to light - obscure the accounting practices in order to hide money. Why hide money? Because Lawrence teachers are underpaid compared to those in surrounding districts (one thing that the school board agrees upon and which Scott Morgan publically stated last board meeting). It is part of not negotiating in good faith for the administration to hide monies - which are really being hid from the board as well. So, I think Ms. Billings hit the nail on the head in her call for more transparency. Another truly excellent point made by Ms. Billings is that this issue is being framed politically as a choice between programs or closing schools. This makes it easy to rally those whose schools are in no danger of closing and make it look like those who oppose school closure are selfish. In fact, there are more alternatives than those proposed by SONS, and certainly some combination can be found that preserves the neighborhood school system Lawrence loves and from which children benefit. Ms. Loveland has stated that she hates one-section schools, but the citizens of Lawrence appear to hate a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to planning our schools. Certainly this issue, one-section schools, is best settled by the patrons of the schools in question. If the parents of the children who attend the schools actually prefer one-section, then who is Mary Loveland to tell them they are wrong? Ms. Loveland is the only one on the board coming into this with her mind made up and her ears and mind shut to further input.

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 10 months ago

Thanks, Kugrad. Yes indeed, there are groups other than SONS proposing excellent ideas. The Wakarusa Valley School Budget Committee, of which Bob Kidder, and Sharon Billings are members, have been presenting many viable budget scenarios to the School Board. We would very excited to work with the Administration and School Board to explore our options. Our group is comprised of business owners, former CEO's of multi-million dollar corporations, academic administrators, governmental efficiency consultants.... this list goes on. So do our ideas. We are a lean, mean, research machine. Let's get together and sweep the district clean.

jackson5 4 years, 10 months ago

Not to mention the dozens of emails that the board office has received from teachers with cost savings ideas. Where are the responses to these knowledgable folks?

It is striking to me that the district office has not provided any new budget saving ideas since January. But they sure have put plenty of effort into school closure details.

Our administrative staff makes $4.9M. This is a lot of brainpower (and payroll) to not be able to come up with any new savings ideas in months. We know that the district staff has been asked to plan for reconfiguration and for school closures - we see the results of this with the staff's presentations at board meetings. Why hasn't anyone asked them to come up with additional savings ideas that protect teachers and schools?

svenway_park 4 years, 10 months ago

Bong hits for archytects who file frivolous law suits and spread lies.

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence has never had a shortage of brainpower. Lawrence has never had a shortage community members and teachers willing to put forth an unwaivering effort to ensure the best interest, and education of our children. These include, of course the teachers and school based administrators. It is a shame that we in the school district can't engage in a little bottom up accounting. Let's start with what is reall important, our childrens learning environment. Let's make it a priority to keep all of our children where they are, for the sake of their learning, safety, and security. For the sake of our children, let's disrupt instead, waste, perks, travel, redundency, motorpools, weightwatchers memberships, etc. Let's start with the premis that everything BUT our childrens's security and success is "On the Table". We don't need new schools, we don't need more land, and we don't need one of the highest number of administrator/student ratios in the state. Here's a suggestion. Why doesen't the administration keep a master list on their website of ALL suggestions from ALL community members and groups regarding possible budget cuts to address the 5M shortfall. It would become very apparent, very quickly, that we can more than cover the shortfall, without closing any schools.

gr3sam 4 years, 10 months ago

There is absolutely a hidden agenda here. One need look no further than Morgan's comments last Monday about new facilities with state of the art equipment. When viewed in light of the Nov. '09 purchase for $1.7M of the land south of Orschelns, this takes on a whole new meaning. These were not simple meanderings from an idealist wanting the best equipment and facilities for the kids. Heck no, this was Little Ceasar about to impose his vision on the hapless! The school board, Morgan leading the way, simultaneously allocated $2M for architechtual fees, site improvements and lot improvements. Morgan's and Loveland's "vision" resulted in a disaster when schools were previously closed. It cost the district millions when that "vision" materialized. However, they failed in their "big picture" at that time, as no new school was built. They are now hell-bent to fulfill that "big picture." The thing they overlook is that their respective visions should be secondary to what is actually in the best interests of the children they were elected to serve. Indeed, they are to be gatekeepers, not a wrecking ball! These two will press on until the electorate rises up audibly and makes it clear that Lawrence will not tolerate this, and ultimately unseats them again. Hopefully, this occurs before they exact the same damage to the district that they did when they closed schools previously! Hopefully, the other 5 board members have more sense than to blindly go where only these 2 idiots would desire to go twice! Go Sharon! Go Bob! Viable options with some level of sense: wouldn't that be a wonderful thing on our school board!

songbird 4 years, 10 months ago

Hooray for this lte! Also for clevercowgirl's statement at 12:32pm and many other responses here! At the last board meeting, Scott Morgan mentioned the need for a more modern elementary building in central Lawrence. We need to make the most of what we have in this economy. We don't need new schools, we don't need more land. If we have so much space in our elementary schools now, perhaps we built one school too many? (sorry LH, I know you are a good school) What we do need is a long range plan that benefits the children and future children of this community, the entire community! We do need to maintain and support what we do have, be thankful that our diverse community has a diverse choice in schools (small, large, neighborhood, rural, walkable, ESL concentration) let's keep it that way!

honestone 4 years, 9 months ago

When they wanted to build the second high school they told us that LHS was too big and crowded to effectively teach the children. Now a big grade school is fine. Mary Loveland has always wanted to close east side grade schools and they really did want Centennial for playing fields

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