Archive for Thursday, April 14, 2011

First Bell: Hillcrest kindergartners to sell lemonade to help Japan; new district budget reports ‘all about transparency’; Lawrence students among Presidential Scholar semifinalists

April 14, 2011


A few education-oriented items from around the area and elsewhere:

Folks looking to boost relief efforts in Japan, quench their own thirsts or help support the artistic and philanthropic efforts of some dedicated kindergartners can accomplish all three tasks Friday afternoon at Hillcrest School.

There, outside the school at 1045 Hilltop Drive, two dozen kindergartners in the Boys and Girls Club after-school program will be selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup.

All proceeds will go to the American Red Cross, to help efforts in Japan to address the devastation from last month’s earthquake and massive tsunami.

The stand will be up and running from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and again next Friday, April 22. Lemonade will be served in plastic cups decorated by the students as part of their chosen “torch project,” the club’s name for a community-service effort.

That the students would choose an international effort isn’t surprising, said Dominique Crain, program manager for the Boys and Girls Club program at the school. Hillcrest serves as the main English as a Second Language site for the Lawrence school district, and multicultural programs and other efforts are more the norm than the exception.

Even among kindergartners.

“I’m very proud of them,” Crain said.


Budget issues continue to garner attention among followers — parents, employees, taxpayers, observers and others — of the Lawrence school district, and they’re about to get some more information to peruse.

Later this month, the district will begin releasing detailed accountings of its budget condition, documents designed to help answer questions about where the money is and where it’s going.

One document — 144 pages long — will be distributed for the second Lawrence school board meeting of each month, as part of the board’s regular agenda packet. Such packets are available electronically at by clicking on “ABOUT US,” then “School Board,” then the particular agenda under “School Board Basics.”

The goal: Ensure that the public has the information it both wants and needs regarding district finances.

“Transparency” emerged as a buzzword during recent campaigns for the Lawrence school board, with candidates often criticizing the district’s financial disclosures and suggesting that the public should play a larger role in the budgeting process. At least three of the four winning candidates — Rick Ingram, Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore — have indicated support for forming a public budget committee to help the board find ways to save and spend money.

Monday night, less than a week after the election, board members learned that new financial reports would be coming their way and, therefore, would be available to the general public.

“We’re all about transparency,” said Rich Minder, board president, who noted that he appreciates efforts that move the district “away from translucence and more toward transparency.”

Kathy Johnson, the district’s division director of finance, said that each “Budget to Actual Expenditure Report” would consolidate more than 500 pages of financial data into 144. It will include information about:

• Money in each particular fund, such as the General Fund and those for Capital Outlay, Local Option Budget, Drivers Training and laundry services for Lawrence and Free State high schools.

• Money within each fund for each particular “function” — such as “Instruction,” “Social Workers, “Site Administration” or others — regarded as “who” the money is spent on.

• Money within each function and within each fund to be spent on “objects,” such as “Certified compensation,” “FICA/Medicare,” “Supplies and Materials” and others. This would represent “what” the money would be spent on.

Also available for review will be a “Cash Summary Report.”

Scott Morgan — who, like Minder, will be leaving the board in July — described the district’s budget process as “bizarre,” blaming it on state law “built around a lack of trust, I guess, in what we do.”

Given that the district’s budget process “doesn’t make much sense,” he said, the district should endeavor to help members of the public understand what they’ll be looking at.

“It’s one thing to have data,” Morgan said. “It’s another to have information.”

Another outgoing board member, Marlene Merrill, described the informational effort as “the right approach,” and suggested that Johnson perhaps appear in one or more video tutorials that could accompany the data online.

Someone mentioned “Budget 101” as a working title, and Minder suggested compiling a “Frequently Asked Questions” feature.

“We’ll continue to tweak this,” Johnson said.

Board members say they’re looking forward to receiving the information.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Morgan said. “I think it’s a great quest.”


Two seniors from high schools in Lawrence are among about 560 semifinalists for a prestigious educational program.

Victoria Gilman, from Free State High School, and David Lawrence, from Bishop Seabury Academy, are among six semifinalists from Kansas competing with others nationwide and Americans living abroad for designation as academic scholars through the 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to recognize distinguished graduating seniors.

About 3,000 students had been invited to enter for the competition, based upon their exceptional scores on the ACT and SAT. Candidates then submitted essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts.

The U.S. Department of Education released the names of semifinalists this month. Next month the Commission on Presidential Scholars will name up to 121 Academic Scholars, honoring broad academic achievement.

Two other students from Lawrence had been invited to enter the competition: Rosemarie Murray, from Free State; and Yuan “Jenny” Xu, from Lawrence High School.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

Transparency starts at home! Cannot blame everything on the state...

"Dave_Trabert (Dave Trabert) says…

" FYI, USD 497 spending per-pupil only increased by 14.1% over the last five years, going from $10,101 to $11,529 according to data collected from the KSDE web site. Spending by fund is available at and can be downloaded, separated into the various cost centers and divided by the number of full time equivalent students to arrive at per-pupil costs. We (Kansas Policy Institute) did that and posted the breakdown for all districts on if you want to save yourself the trouble.

Here’s how the major categories changed over the last five years for USD 497:

Instruction +25.6% Student / Staff support -6.6% Administration +2.4% Trans., Food Svc, Maint. +3.0% Capital and Debt +11.3%

USD 497 has some of the smallest cost increases in the state (and yes, spending on student and staff support did decline). Part of the reason that spending hasn’t grown much is that their carryover cash balances (not counting capital and bond payment funds) increased by $23.1 million – from $5.3 million to $28.4 million. Most of the increase represents state and local tax dollars that weren’t spent. Some of that money can be immediately transferred and used in any manner; some can be accessed by putting less into the fund than needed and spending down part of the balance (according to KSDE). "

Kookamooka 6 years, 11 months ago

Why didn't they list all four students at the top of the article? That's just weird. Aren't they all on par? Also...In this tech-video age, a state school finance tutorial via youtube would go a long way toward explaining the awkward line item money sorting that the states and districts do. It's an elaborate dance.

Nikki May 6 years, 11 months ago

Probably they didn't list the other two students because they chose not to enter. That's just a guess. It said two were semi-finalists and two others were invited to compete.

GMom05 6 years, 11 months ago

Or maybe they competed at a lower level but didn't make it to semi-finals. Either way, great work students!! Congrats!

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 11 months ago

"'We’re all about transparency,' said Rich Minder, board president, who" refused to recuse himself from voting on school closures knowing full well that if New York School (the smallest in the district and most logical to close for that reason) was closed, his entire investment portfolio would go straight into the toilet.

"Scott Morgan — who, like Minder, will be leaving the board in July — described the district’s budget process as 'bizarre,' blaming it on state law 'built around a lack of trust, I guess, in what we do.'" A lack of trust that is totally merited, given the deception practiced by Morgan as he advocated closure of the only (1) partially "green" grade school; (2) grade school that does not need extensive capital outlay; and (3) #1 community grade school, in the district.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 11 months ago

"Transparency," along with "Vision," are the two most hackneyed, throw-away words in American corporate/government-speak today. They've been used so disingenuously for so long that they've become meaningless.

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