Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First Bell: Mulling a new bond issue, as others back off; tax changes affect college-savings plans; Hallmark delivers ‘Customizable Classroom Valentines’

February 2, 2011


With Lawrence school district leaders at least discussing the possibility of a seeking approval for a future bond issue — members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force are moving closer to recommending one — I noticed that at least one other district in the state is moving in the opposite direction.

In Wichita, district leaders actually are putting the brakes on a $370 million bond issue approved by voters back in 2008.

Blame the economy.

“This does not mean we are changing the bond plan at this time, but pausing so we can re-evaluate everything,” Wichita Superintendent John Allison said, as reported in The Wichita Eagle. “When you look at the economic aspects around which the board plan was considered, that’s changed dramatically.”

It certainly will be interesting to se how Lawrence leaders balance economic realities with future needs. Task force members have been meeting for months, coming up with ways to improve education within dwindling financial means.

Talk among task force members has included possibilities for consolidating schools into new ones, and making major upgrades to others.

Whether such plans gain support from the Lawrence school board, and then, ultimately, from district voters, remains to be seen.


A consortium of more than 270 private colleges and universities has outlined changes — and their tax implications — to some popular vehicles for college savings.

The organization, called the Tuition Plan Consortium, is a not-for-profit organization financed by participating schools and managed by a subsidiary of OppenheimerFunds Inc.

According to the consortium, here are applicable changes to the Economic Growth Tax Relief Recognition Act, listed by topic or program:

• Coverdell Education Savings Account extension. This savings plan, sometimes known as the IRA for education, can be used for higher education as well as elementary and secondary education. Benefits set to expire at the end of 2010 are now extended through 2012. These benefits include a $2,000 annual contribution limit, the ability to include elementary and secondary school education as qualified expenses, and the option to take tax-free distributions from the account and claim an education tax credit in the same year.

• Limiting “Qualified Technology Expenses” for 529 plans. Before the 2011 changes, computers, other similar technologies and Internet access were considered qualified expenses for 529 plans. The new rules no longer allow those expenses to be funded by a 529 account without penalty. However, if a college requires students to have a computer in order to attend, technology will be included as a qualified expense. It pays to double check.

• Estate-tax exclusion now reinstated. For 2011 and 2012, the estate-tax exclusion will increase to $5 million or $10 million for a couple, giving wealthier parents and grandparents additional motivation to help boost college savings accounts since contributions can now reach up to the $65,000 allotted annual gift-tax exclusion amount.


A certain greetings card company with major operations in Lawrence is rolling out a new card service, with designs on capturing more of the market for classroom Valentines.

Hallmark Inc. says it has expanded its Personalized Greetings Collection to include “Customizable Classroom Valentines.”

“Valentine’s Day is about celebrating all types of love, not just romantic love, so Hallmark is excited to share a product that can help Moms cross one more thing off their to-do list while enjoying the moment with their kids,” said Camille Lauer, Hallmark innovation leader. “In turn, kids can celebrate the holiday with cards that have their personal touch.”

I’m not saying they’re the way to go, but — if nothing else — it’s fun to sneak a peek at the potential offerings. And going with custom cards certainly is more pricey than opting for more generic SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb or other popular character-driven Valentines.

— The First Bell e-mailbox is always open:


Catalano 7 years, 2 months ago

MORE school closings PLUS ANOTHER bond issue? What universe do there people live in?

Carol Bowen 7 years, 2 months ago

USD497 blatantly increased its millage while the city and county commissions grieved over their budgets. And, it squandered the last bond issue rather than use it as intended. I will probably vote no on another school bond issue. Not because we don't need it, but because our school board lacks credibility.

jackson5 7 years, 2 months ago

The school board could have voted to increase the cost-of-living mill assessment which would have paid for more teachers. Instead, they chose to keep it at last year's level and increase the assessment for capital projects. They say they support students, parents and teachers but the numbers tell us something different.

Where is the educational vision that was to come out of the the elementary education task force? The only proposals out of this group are more construction, more bonds and school closures. I thought this group of incredibly awesome folks where going to come up with a vision about how to best educate our children. We used to be state-wide leaders in K-12 education and now we are a district "on improvement." We lost an opportunity to do something great by having this group focus only on which schools to close.

Carol Bowen 7 years, 2 months ago

Thank you for the explanation. I did not know there could be a bond issue for anything other than construction.

I am peeved because USD 497 did not use remaining funds from the last bond issue to work on the elementary schools they are discussing now. (I am trying to remember whether or not elementary schools were part of the last bond issue.)

FormerTiger 7 years, 2 months ago


According to this article, the only elementary school included in this last bond was Broken Arrow - probably only because they were connecting it to the new South Jr. High.

Carol Bowen 7 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the link. "Tom , the district's division director for operations and facility planning, said he expected the final cost to end up $1.5 million below the $54 million. He said the district could use the extra money to make more improvements at any of those schools." I looked back further, but could not find a statement on what to do with remaining funds. I think it would have been most appropriate to use them for other school projects. We could have addressed the needs of some of the other schools rather than two sports complexes.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

School Task Force Meetings

February 14 February 21 February 28

5:30 - 7 PM

at USD 497 Headquarters

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

USD BOE Meetings:

February 14 7 PM

February 28 7 PM

At USD 497 headquarters

Lawrence Public Schools | Unified School District 497 | 110 McDonald Drive | Lawrence, KS 66044 Phone: (785) 832-5000 Fax: (785) 832-5016

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