Already faced with a list of repair, renovation and reconstruction projects expected to cost more than $10 million, members of the Lawrence school board know they’ll face difficult decisions in the months and years ahead when it comes to upgrading the district’s elementary schools.
Monday evening, they’ll discuss whether they want to bring in outside help to suggest priorities, think ahead and otherwise envision a future for major projects in a market challenged by financial limitations.
“We need community input,” said Randy Masten, a board member who wants to establish a Facilities Advisory Committee to assist board members and administrators in such deliberations. “We’re one of the most educated cities in America, and we’ve got a very willing group of citizens. It would be negligent on our part not to try to get them involved.”
Masten’s plan will be among a variety of suggestions and initiatives considered today, during the board’s annual goals setting session. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
The session is designed to allow the district’s elected leaders to establish written goals for their hired administrators to implement during the next 12 months. Such goals typically call for boosting student achievement and using resources effectively.
Capital projects typically don’t make the list, but Masten wants to change that. His reasoning: District administrators have struggled to make major upgrades to district elementary schools, with rejection of a previous bond issue and then ongoing indecision about which schools might be closed or remain open.
The needs at some schools have grown especially acute, Masten said, as the years have gone by. Kennedy School needs a new roof, for example, but the previous school board had opted not to order the overhaul because the school remains among six being studied for consolidation. Cordley School has ADA compliance issues.
The board ultimately could decide to close one or two or three schools, as recommended in February by Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force and now being studied by the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. Or the board could keep all 14 elementaries open.
Establishing a Facilities Advisory Committee, with anywhere from seven to 10 volunteers from the business and academic communities in Lawrence, could focus on long-term needs while allowing the district’s administrators to concentrate on schools’ daily operations.
“Regardless of which way we decide to go, we’re going to have to have a bond issue — either to repair the existing facilities or create new ones, and probably a mix of the two,” Masten said. “And if we’re going to do a bond issue, we have to do it smart.”
But Mark Bradford, board president, questions whether the district needs another advisory panel, particularly one that wouldn’t have a specific, defined mission.
The task force was directed to recommend a single plan for the district’s elementary schools while mindful of tight financial resources. The working group has been instructed to provide a plan for consolidating a list of six schools into as few as three or four.
Any new advisory committee, likewise, should have a specific task assigned, Bradford said. Coming up with a plan for a bond issue, for example, should come only after the goal for the bond issue has been identified by the working group and then endorsed and approved by the board itself.
The working group’s report is due in February.
“I just don’t want to create another level of bureaucracy,” said Bradford, who approved both the task force’s recommendations and the working group’s formation.
Masten, who took office in July, envisions the committee as a way to formulate a “strategic course” for the future. While district administrators do a great job guiding the district through complex daily challenges, committee members experienced with capital needs and projects — architects, businesspeople, faculty and staff at Kansas University — could seek and identify options and alternatives that might not have been considered previously, he said.
“It’s not just for one task, but ongoing,” Masten said. “It’s for experts who have time they can dedicate, whether it’s months or years. They can help us out.”