Archive for Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Equity expense

Accepting a well-intentioned gift triggered a chain of expenditures that have proved costly for the Lawrence school district.

May 19, 2010


The unintended consequences of a generous gift to Free State High School should have taught Lawrence school administrators and board members a valuable lesson.

Providing equivalent facilities and educational opportunities at Lawrence’s two high schools is an issue that local residents take very seriously, and accepting private donations to upgrade facilities at one school almost always has the potential of throwing off that balance.

It’s not as if school board members didn’t consider equity issues when they decided last summer to accept a private donor’s money to expand plans for a building near the new Free State football field. The donation allowed the district to add locker room facilities to the building that originally was planned to house restrooms, storage and a concession stand.

They had allowed $400,000 for restrooms, concessions and storage at both schools and had put in an extra $250,000 to renovate the Lawrence High locker room, which was more conveniently located near that school’s football field. So with the Free State donation, they reasoned, everything will be pretty equal.

It was a good theory, but when the district sought to provide the same quality of facility at LHS that had been constructed at Free State, the price tag went up. The bid that was accepted by the board Monday night for the LHS facilities was for $675,000.

That’s $275,000 that won’t be available for capital improvements at other schools this summer. The only vote against accepting the bid came from Vanessa Sanburn, who expressed concern about needed repairs at Lawrence’s elementary school. She also said the bids shouldn’t be considered until the board received bids for a new press box at the LHS stadium, which will take even more money from the district’s capital budget.

School Board President Scott Morgan defended the expenditure for facilities that would be used both by children and the rest of the community. “It’s not just crazy athletics over elementary,” he said.

Funny, it sort of looks that way.

State funding cuts have forced the district to cut millions of dollars from its operating budget in the last year. The capital money that will go into football facilities is separate from those funds, but there is a limited amount of money to finance repairs and maintenance work at all of the district’s buildings. The bid approved on Monday means $675,000 — $275,000 more than was budgeted — will be diverted from whatever work needs to be done at elementary or secondary schools so that the football facilities can be finished.

School board members may not have felt they had much choice but to spend whatever was needed to make sure the facilities at LHS were as nice as the ones at Free State. We hope they will remember this experience the next time they consider accepting a gift to benefit one of the district’s schools.


jmadison 8 years ago

Is there a separate stadium for each school in the Shawnee Mission school district, or are there shared facilities such as a district stadium?

no_thanks 8 years ago

I believe most schools in the Shawnee Mission school district have their own facilities, but Lawrence is not Shawnee Mission. This is a community that thinks more about its own self interest rather than that of the community as a whole. Had we been more thoughtful of the latter the money could have been spent on a district stadium, maybe something to the scale of Hummer Park in Topeka, that the entire community could have rallied behind. Instead, we focused on the school's own individual locations, leading to neighborhood battles at LHS, and a gross misuse of capital.

Tony Kisner 8 years ago

I think Shawnee Mission has 2 football facilities. One at SM North and One at SM South. SM West could have one I am not sure.

Topeka High and Topeka West share 1 facility. I am not sure if Highland Park plays at the field or not, I think not.

The Olathe Schools have two facilities, can't remember how many schools are in the district, 5-6?

If I remember correctly the Lawrence School district purchased open land somewhere in town for future expansion. Am I correct on this? Is the land still unimproved?

4getabouit 8 years ago

I completely disagree with the premise of this editorial. The editorial basically suggests that the school board turn down donations. Accepting the Free State donation raises the bar for both schools. Lawrence High School donors will come through for LHS facilities. Give it some time.

Scott Morgan is doing what he should be doing.......advocating for the schools. Although there may be short term inequities, in the long run, cultivating and accepting donations is the prudent and smart thing to do. Apparently the JW knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

grimpeur 8 years ago

"School Board President Scott Morgan defended the expenditure for facilities that would be used both by children and the rest of the community. “It’s not just crazy athletics over elementary,” he said."

Yeah? Are those tennis courts lit yet? What amenities are now in place for the community beyond LHS students that were not available before? Fields? Already had them. Track? Already had it. Tennis? The previous courts were well-lit and well-used.

A better plan would have made use of the expansion of LHS to team with the city and/or county and build some facilities that would have been truly useful to the entire community and the schools. Plenty of room over there. Just not enough vision or interest in anything other than a narrow-use trophy facility, rushed into existence (quick! before they catch up with us!) and still half-baked.

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

$20,000,000 not enough for facilities that USD 497 could have lived without?

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

This whole matter should never have bypassed a public vote! That is irresponsible!

PLAY should NEVER have been part of USD 497 budget! That too is unacceptable!

texburgh 8 years ago

If Free State's facility was built for free (using a donation) then isn't Lawrence High's facility being built for 1/2 of the amount bid? If LHS facilities cost $700,000, then LHS + LFSHS could have cost $1,400,000...This is classic BOGO. They buy one facility and get two. Instead of focusing on the cost of LHS facilities, why not focus on the fact that doing them both would normally have cost twice as much?

I don't think the stadiums were done above board; I'm not convinced they were necessary; but why are we focusing on the ENORMOUS cost of these facilities for LHS instead of being thankful that we didn't have to pay for them both?

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