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.