Archive for Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School board ready to seek volunteer advice

August 23, 2011


The Lawrence school district is on track to assemble an array of experts to provide advice in budgeting, facilities planning and possibly other complicated and far-reaching topics and issues that require spending money or otherwise allocating valuable resources and attention.

And, as school finances continue to dwindle, such consulting services won’t be expected to cost the district a penny.

“The school district is such an important part of what makes Lawrence, Lawrence,” said Keith Diaz Moore, a board member and advocate for boosting public involvement in the district’s decision-making deliberations. “I think people will be willing to volunteer and provide their expertise to help the district out in these times of need.”

The concept gained support as Diaz Moore and his fellow board members met for more than two hours Monday night to discuss their goals for the coming year. While the meeting covered strategies for closing achievement gaps and evaluating teachers and exploring curriculum options and other matters, several board members pushed for going outside the district payroll for help dealing with short-term complications and long-term visions.

Randy Masten suggested that the district create both a Budget Advisory Committee and a Facilities Advisory Committee. The two groups, made up of volunteers from Kansas University and the area business community, would support the daily efforts of district administrators.

“They’d provide sound advice or input or possibilities,” Masten said.

Mark Bradford, board president, cautioned that the committees could end up merely forming recommendations based on “philosophies,” such as setting budget levels for spending on overall construction projects or assigning certain percentages of budgets to contingency funds. Board members are elected to decide such matters, he said.

“I’d hate to put another layer in there,” Bradford said, noting decisions are made by a majority of the seven-member board. “It’s four votes.”

Rick Ingram, who received the most votes among four candidates in the board election in April, countered that the board could make its best decisions while contemplating a wide range of options, not simply those forwarded by administrators alone.

“If it’s one set of opinions, then we don’t even have a choice,” Ingram said.

Ingram indicated that he’d also like to consider expanding the district’s public-involvement processes to include at least two other advisory committees: one made up of students, and another made up of teachers.

“We could probably learn a lot from the people who are in the trenches,” said Ingram, who also wants to create Facebook pages and conduct digital surveys to foster “two-way communication” between the district and its patrons.

The board already has at least one volunteer group in place: The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group meets next week to start devising recommendations for consolidating a list of six elementary schools into three or four. That would fulfill the vision created by the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, which in February recommended pursuing consolidation and closing Wakarusa Valley School — two efforts endorsed by the school board that had four other members.

While current board members did not formally vote Monday on their goals for the coming year, such ideas for advisory committees and other input-oriented efforts drew consensus. Rick Doll, district superintendent, admitted that he’d entered the discussion with “some defensiveness,” a feeling that eased as he compiled the list of suggestions for helping, not hurting, district operations.

“I see a goal there,” he said.

Doll plans to compile suggested goals into a single document for discussion next month. Board members would be expected to approve the goals by the end of September.


Kookamooka 6 years, 10 months ago

Yes. Don't spend crazy money on consultants when you have some of the most knowledgeable experts in their fields working at KU and sending their kids to USD497. Use your resources. These are parents and stakeholders who deeply care about the district and would volunteer to make it better. OR...

You could contact a neighboring school district, chat with their administration, and find out what their strategies for surviving the economic crisis are. Maybe they paid for the fancy consultant? Maybe taking the consultants suggestions didn't help.

Clevercowgirl 6 years, 10 months ago

I love the idea of the school board being presented several options in addressing an issue. The outcome driven committees have to go. I would go a step further, and suggest a parent committee to give input to the school board. This committee could give input to the district and school board on what is working, and not, with respect to the daily operations and education of our children.

Also, I really like the facebook idea. Get it rolling Rick.

GMom05 6 years, 10 months ago

As long as these new committees are not going to be railroaded into decisions that are actually Doll's.

buffalo63 6 years, 10 months ago

One district where I taught, all the information the Board received about the teachers was from the Superintendent. Any information the teachers received from the Board was through the Superintendent. When the Board and the teachers actually started talking directly, the Superindentent was gone the next year. Everyone realized the information flow was tainted. The Superindentent only lasted two years in their next job, same reason. Any "outside" knowledge a Board can receive can only lead to better decisions. As the saying goes, "Question Authority!"

GMom05 6 years, 10 months ago

Absolutely. These committees should report back to the board through someone that is not driven by the superindent or ANOTHER board member. Reporting should be factual, fair, and unbiased. If it weren't for the fact that these committees need historical or financial information provided to them from an administrator, I'd say don't have any of them there. Let the committees do their work without pressure. Otherwise we'll end up with another ludicrous excuse for a working group like the Elementary Task force, (who never would have voted the way they did if they had known USD497 had $3M to spend this year. Hmmm. The administrators forgot to mention that part). What a waste of those poor people's time, when they volunteered in good faith to help.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

  Other issues that deserve serious discussion:

  Shannon Kimball suggested that too much time away from school might create problems for some such as forgetting what they learned. Why not break up time off from school into more breaks of less duration instead of almost 3 months in the summer? This might have merit.

  Mark Bradford while supporting as many dollars as possible for the more challenged students let's not forget the students who are getting it. Which is a good point.

  Is the district offering enough challenge for the 3.0-4.0 students. Simply because some students sail through with ease does not mean they too are not bored or do not want more interesting stuff thrown at them. If my memory serves me well this was the stimulus behind Bishop-Seabury.... parents realized their smart kids were not being served. Some of the parents went to Home School programs then founded Bishop-Seabury.

  There was talk of developing models for elementary,middle and high schools. Staff indicated funding was an obstacle in designing the can we say the most aggressive model. Randy Masten suggested come with the absolute best model no matter what which struck me as why not. While finances may be a constraint at least the best model is there to work with which provides the ultimate goal. As money becomes more plentiful USD 497 has the opportunity to build on the go with educational utopia waiting at the summit.

  "“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 and Ingram provided excellent comments on the issue above. Taxpaying parents might want to consider the potential put before us by supporting the concept.

  The discussion developed into organizing other long term advisory groups to cover other issues which I believe could be brilliant. This would provide staff and board members constant input from the taxpaying/parents. What better way to discover what parents and students are searching for which might just put USD 497 academics among the top 10 in the nation. What is there to lose?

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 10 months ago

Why has it not occurred to anyone else that had the district hired folks who could actually do what their job titles require, and the school board consisted of folks with enough faith in the recommendations from those folks, there would be no need for all these committees?

Clevercowgirl 6 years, 10 months ago

Because nothing resembling that situation has happened for a very long time? Just a guess.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Let's take New York Elementary. A new Gym was added to that school less than 10 years ago which required a fair number of tax dollars. Closing that school demonstrates little respect for how tax dollars are spent.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? 61% = over a period of time 31% do a bond issue

At $7.5 million USD 497 tax dollars a year in capital outlay funds this maintenance could be accomplished in two years without raising taxes or borrowing money. That money is actually available as we speak. In fact USD 497 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities calls for $6,440,000 which includes maintenance/repairs/additions to:

Cordley Deerfield East Heights Hillcrest Kennedy Langston Hughes(replacing floor throughout this new school building) Centennial New York Pinckney Prairie Park Quail Run Schwegler Sunflower Wakarusa Woodlawn

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 5,198 said yes

No money will be saved building new schools. Two new bigger schools will cost at least $20 million. It is better to fix what we have and do it right. This way more children can walk and bike to school and the parents homes will not lose 10% more in property value due to the closing of a neighborhood school.

Hey folks the "artificial boom town economy" set up by "Shady Deal Real Estate and Financial Institutions Inc" is over after taking the nations economy down the tubes. Some folks seem to still believe we're rolling along as if nothing happened .... those that have not lost their jobs or been negatively impacted.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 10 months ago

How many times have you cited that 8 year old poll, merrill? Do you think things might have possibly have changed since then?

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