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Archive for Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lawrence school district weighs elementary school needs as it seeks bond issue for consolidation, updates

February 12, 2011

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A fifth-grade class at Sunset Hill School, 901 Schwarz Road in central Lawrence, leaves portable classrooms to head to lunch Thursday. The school is among elementary schools in the district envisioned for upgrades as part of a potential bond issue that would be expected to make changes within the next three to five years. Sunset Hill is simply too small — its fifth-graders all attend class in portables, and the lunchroom also is the school’s gym.

A fifth-grade class at Sunset Hill School, 901 Schwarz Road in central Lawrence, leaves portable classrooms to head to lunch Thursday. The school is among elementary schools in the district envisioned for upgrades as part of a potential bond issue that would be expected to make changes within the next three to five years. Sunset Hill is simply too small — its fifth-graders all attend class in portables, and the lunchroom also is the school’s gym.

Kamree Miles, 6, and her father, Todd Miles, a school Watch D.O.G., have lunch together in the Sunset Hill cafeteria, which is also the school’s gym. “This community is an education community. If a bond issue is crafted that makes sense, and it’s respectful of taxpayer money, I think the community would support it,” said Sunset Hill principal Chris Bay

Kamree Miles, 6, and her father, Todd Miles, a school Watch D.O.G., have lunch together in the Sunset Hill cafeteria, which is also the school’s gym. “This community is an education community. If a bond issue is crafted that makes sense, and it’s respectful of taxpayer money, I think the community would support it,” said Sunset Hill principal Chris Bay

Officials acknowledge that the next bond issue in the Lawrence school district will address needs in the district’s elementary schools: eliminating portables, adding classrooms, fixing roofs, remodeling kitchens and embarking on dozens of other projects — large and small — considered necessary to bring equitable and effective educational opportunities to all students in grades kindergarten through five.

Such a goal is poised to emerge later this month from the district’s Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, tasked with recommending short- and long-term plans for addressing the district’s educational needs while grappling with dwindling finances.

One inherent problem: A bond issue is no sure thing.

“It’s a huge risk,” said Jessica Beeson, a task force member and parent of two kids at Cordley School, one of three schools being studied by the group for recommended closure next year.

Voters, of course, always have the final say in district business: They elect school board members, who have appointed the task force, whose members have spent months coming up with a vision for the future.

But bond issues are about money. And without money, the long-term recommendations of the task force would be in jeopardy.

School board member Mark Bradford, for one, isn’t worried.

“If we come up with a quality bond issue, with the input of the task force … I think it would go through without a hitch,” said Bradford, who is in line to become board president in June. “We need to start looking at that now. We need to have very specific plans lined out, with what the bond issue would do, and what the outcomes of that bond issue would do.”

Bond issue

For now, the task force is concentrating on a two-tiered approach to its school sites and buildings:

• Next year, consider closing one or two of three elementary schools: Cordley, 1837 Vt.; Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St.; and Wakarusa Valley, 1104 E 1000 Road. Such a move or moves would not require a bond issue but would be expected to help the district save money as it receives less revenue from the state.

• Within three to five years, consider consolidating four schools into two: Kennedy, 1605 Davis Road, and New York, 936 N.Y., in eastern Lawrence; and Hillcrest, 1045 Hilltop Drive, and Sunset Hill, 901 Schwarz Road, in central Lawrence. Such moves would mean expanding one or two current locations, or building entirely new schools, with the idea of saving money on operations by replacing smaller schools with larger, more efficient ones.

Consolidating schools would mean spending money, and that would require voter approval.

Scott Morgan, a board member and co-chairman of the task force, figures that voters would be receptive to a comprehensive bond issue that addresses the district’s long-term needs. All elementary schools would get at least some upgrades as part of such a plan, he said.

And with previous bond issues starting to roll off the books in the next few years, he said, the district could seek millions of dollars in authority for renovations and construction without anyone’s property-tax rates increasing beyond current levels.

“We’ve done the secondary schools,” he said, referring to previous bond issues approved by voters. “Now we need to pony up for the elementary schools, and we can do that without raising taxes.”

Voter approval

But officials should be cautious when pursuing that line of thinking, task force member Beeson said.

Eight years ago, voters rejected a proposed $59 million bond issue that would have consolidated schools, renovated others, and financed additions that would have enabled elimination of portable classrooms at Broken Arrow, Deerfield, Hillcrest, Kennedy, Quail Run, Sunset Hill and Wakarusa Valley schools.

That financing push lost at the ballot box, a rejection Beeson attributed in large part to voters’ distaste of earlier closures of Centennial, Grant and Riverside schools.

She fears the same thing could happen this time around, should the board push to close more than one elementary school next year.

“Then, all of our hopes and dreams for having new schools are just gone,” she said. “And all those schools just continue to be falling apart and everything else. Portables stay up.”

Beeson just wants to be sure that the task force recommends options that can be supported by data, grounded in viable goals and achievable in a community that embraces education.

Chris Bay, in his 11th year as principal at Sunset Hill, figures the task force is on the right track. He wishes such planning had been needed “for decades,” but should serve the community well in the months and years ahead.

“One of the great things about working in Lawrence as an educator is that Lawrence is an education community,” he said. “We’ve got KU. We’ve got Haskell. And Lawrence public schools have a great reputation.

“This community is an education community. If a bond issue is crafted that makes sense, and it’s respectful of taxpayer money, I think the community would support it.”

Comments

Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

When offering a bond issue put forth choices not one lump sum bond issue. It would be better to get something than nothing.

Also provide dollar figures with each project.

Unfortunately blowing 20 million on the sports project fiasco WITHOUT voter approval may be the large nail in the coffin. And was a reckless decision.

This could one of the choices on the ballot which essentially says fix OUR elementary schools:

http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/oct/how_should_school_district_pay_20_million_maintena/

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/oct/22/school-priorities/#c1027186

http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/jul/what_do_you_think_proposed_3mill_property_tax_incr/

Teacher Salary Support http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

It is hard to appreciate a board that spends $23,000 acre for 75 acres of unimproved land. The USD 497 BOE got duped and so did USD 497 taxpayers.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

I say find a way make all existing structures work aka fit into the plan. This should be among the choices. Most all neighborhoods have grown. Our school buildings are worth millions of dollars each.

Close down the luxury USD 497 headquarters. Put the building on the market. Move the admin into Centennial.... the USD 497 BOE can meet in the auditorium/Gym space

Move the other services to East Heights.

Stop buying land.

It's time for the real estate home building development industry to donate land for parks and public schools. This group is busy creating new neighborhoods for their bank accounts NOT for a better quality of life in Lawrence, Kansas. More of this growth breeds more reckless spending of tax dollars, more traffic congestion(tax increase) and in reality expanding cities = more crime(tax increase).

If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we might not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by new residential housing does not pay for the services they require from a municipality.

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Mari Aubuchon 3 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, I agree with all of your points.

I voted for the last bond issue to improve the schools in our districts. I am disgusted by the flagrant misappropriation of funds that followed.Nearly $20 million has been wasted on the sports boondoggle during the worst economic climate since the Depression.

If I were to vote for another school bond issue, I would have to know that the funds would be used for exactly what we are voting for rather than some "bait and switch" or future vanity project . I voted against the parking garage and library bond issue because it seems like the wrong project at the wrong time. I also worried that the library would end up with even fewer improvements in the end than we read about prior to the vote.
Of course, in the past couple of weeks we have already seen additions to the parking garage plans and to the overall cost. How can $18 million not be enough?

Just a reminder: Free State High School only cost $25.8 million to build fifteen years ago. The parking garage on New Hampshire cost $6 million in 2001. Is inflation really to blame for the high costs of the projects of the past few years?

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

The bottom line:

Adding miles and miles and miles of new infrastructure is like adding miles and miles and miles of new taxes. In a bedroom community this is not expanding the tax base it is expanding our tax bills.

How in the world can Lawrence afford to spend on new projects that truly add NEW expense for the community to maintain.

This is not sensible spending or sensible growth.

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 7 months ago

The linkbot has woken. Fear his mad copy/paste skills.

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ResQd 3 years, 7 months ago

Wait....didn't we just have a huge bond issue? Ooops, that was the overpriced, unnecessary new library. Let's wait and pay for that first; should be in the next 20 years or so, then we can start looking at schools.

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irvan moore 3 years, 7 months ago

it's pretty simple, if you have kids or plan on having them, live in a neighborhood that has room for them in the schools,

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Kookamooka 3 years, 7 months ago

Or move away from Kansas entirely.

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kansasredlegs 3 years, 7 months ago

Still yet another photo op using the portables. I recall the last huge bond for school structures and maintenance, had all the pertinent photos of a trim board coming loose, etc.

Stop with the portable classrooms pics already.

Out-of-towner organizer got his library, so now we get to go without new buildings for schools.

NO NEW TAXES!!!!

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sickofdummies 3 years, 7 months ago

"And with previous bond issues starting to roll off the books in the next few years, he said, the district could seek millions of dollars in authority for renovations and construction without anyone’s property-tax rates increasing beyond current levels."

Just curious if you read this part? The bond issue is actually a long term plan, and it appears that it would go into effect as the old bond issue rolls out, so that there would not be a change in the amount of taxes.

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jafs 3 years, 7 months ago

That will only be true if the new bond takes effect in such a way as to have no overlap.

"starting to roll off the books in the next few years"

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Mari Aubuchon 3 years, 7 months ago

Why weren't some of these projects taken care of with that "leftover" money from the last bond issue? Wasn't that what we all voted for?

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Steve Jacob 3 years, 7 months ago

I hope people remember that this next vote.

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Catalano 3 years, 7 months ago

Could someone please provide a link to the last bond issue information? I know we had money left over and used it on the high school sports facilities, but what did the original bond language say? Was there any mention of upgrading elementary schools, or was there just leftover money they flagrantly spent without voter approval? Thanks.

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Mari Aubuchon 3 years, 7 months ago

In April 2005, we passed the schools bond issues. This is what was on our ballots:

Question 1: Allow $54 million for improvements at seven schools. The bulk of the money -- $31.9 million -- would build a new South Junior High School and improve Broken Arrow School.

If approved: South Junior High and Broken Arrow schools: $31.9 million to remove and replace South and improve Broken Arrow, including asbestos removal, new special-education rooms and an art room. It also would finance construction of a cafeteria for each school and a shared kitchen, and it would eliminate portable classrooms. Other junior highs: $16.7 million to add 35 classrooms and eliminate portables, modify or build gyms, and expand the Southwest Junior High School cafeteria. * High schools: $5.4 million to renovate locker rooms and science labs, build a new entrance to the east gym and add space for three science labs at Lawrence High School. The money also would finance labs for welding and other courses at Free State High School.

Question 2: Provide $8.9 million for technology, including hundreds of laptop computers. It also would allow wireless Internet access in all classrooms and offices.

If approved: * Technology: $8.9 million to expand computer networks and buy nearly 2,000 laptop computers and software. It also would allow wireless Internet access in all classrooms and offices in the district, about 800 room

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Mari Aubuchon 3 years, 7 months ago

Their decision to sue the money for an outdoor sports complex had no relationship to our ballots. Adding elementary school renovations seems rather less of a leap to me.

Nonetheless, I do have to wonder why they didn't go to the public to ask what should be done with the remaining funds or keep them for future building improvements, which we could have voted on in one of the many elections since April 2005.

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Catalano 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the info. What universe do these people live in? Or, better yet, what elementary school districts do they live in?

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jackson5 3 years, 7 months ago

The idea that a bond is necessary to make repairs and remodel is another example of poor financial planning. Each year, the district collects around $13Million tax dollars for the capital outlay fund that is earmarked for repairs, renovations or expanding facilities. We can afford to fix the leaking roofs right now without a new bond. We could have afforded it last year and the year before that.

The district managed to find capital outlay funds to remodel the board office (including the superintendent office) and purchase land on the outskirts of town. We have kIds in trailers, leaky roofs, and fire detectors not up to code at elementary schools. It is odd how sometimes the capital outlay funds is presented as an unlimited bucket of taxpayer dollars (new jr. high signage) but when it comes to simple maintence of elementaries to prevent mold, capital outlay funds are limited and require a bond.

Here is the budget for capital outlay showing the millions in reserve: http://www.usd497.org/AboutUs/SchoolBoard/Agenda/2010.11Archives/documents/20100809bhd/Code16.pdf

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princesslea 3 years, 7 months ago

I just "love" how this city can put a huge multimillion dollar renovation project onto the library (or so its proposed) but yet we have to close our schools! We can also pay the superintendant more than our Govenor but yet we are still closing our schools, I think our schools are awsome here and we as a community should try and come up with solutions to the buget shortfall. Such as selling the ESDC building, cutting some of the assistant jobs and having more people multi-task and instead of closing schools and adding more students to others (and portables to fit them), selling any land they may have acquired for additional building, getting more parents involved as volunteers so we can keep these schools OPEN! Also if they keep closing schools who and what budget are going to pay for the busing of the kids as the schools keep getting farther out of neighborhoods.

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sickofdummies 3 years, 7 months ago

Actually, the bond issue would be to build new buildings or renovate old ones on the east side. Yes, a couple of schools would close in this scenario, but the students would be able to go to a new or newly renovated facilities. BTW...I saw more 'Vote YES to the library' signs in yards of people who live in the areas that are at risk of having their schools close than anywhere else in town. Perhaps those people should be thinking things through a little better, then the public would not have such a problem passing a bond issue for new locations for their children. Just sayin'...

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sickofdummies 3 years, 7 months ago

Hey everyone....FYI, the reason we have now used every last penny that we had, was because the school board listened to the public about not closing schools last year. Now, we HAVE to do something. And as for everyone who continues to bash our very hard working school board members....take your frustrations out at the polls. REMEMBER...we voted for them!! Not only that, but there was an open application process to join the task force over the summer and this fall. Every one of you had the opportunity to serve on the committee. Of course, my guess is that you dont want to give up your time to serve our community, or have to be the butt of everyone's attacks, so instead you choose to sit back and complain about it. Put up or shut up.

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alm77 3 years, 7 months ago

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

First of all, the money used for capitol outlay can't be used to run the schools. Those are two separate funds and two separate issues. Keeping schools open costs operational money. Building new buildings comes out of the capitol outlay. They want to close schools as a way to cut payroll. (We can't reduce salaries because of contracts, so we'll just eliminate positions.)

Secondly, no one is bashing the hard working school board members that signed up for this hard work and some of us did not vote for them. The real blame lies at the state level for not funding the schools at the level they need to.

Lastly, over 60 applicants wanted to be on this Task Force and only 15 or so were HAND PICKED. Some of whom send their children to PRIVATE schools.

Loads of people I know are working this weekend to "put up" and no one is going to shut up.

This situation is infuriating.

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sickofdummies 3 years, 7 months ago

Alm... First, I did not suggest that capitol funds could be used for operational use. However, the extra that we had in operations funds was used this year for operational use of keeping the schools open. However, we do not have the operational funds in our current budget to continue with the operations expenses that we are using.
Secondly, when people have complained about decisions that are being and have been made regarding our schools, who exactly do you think they are bashing? I agree that the blame lies elsewhere, but everyone else does not seem to agree on that point. Thirdly, I said that it was an open application process, which is 100% true. All of those applicants were allowed to submit, but not all were chosen. I'm told that the attempt was to create diversity in the task force, and not have one small sector control it. (which I totally agree with) By the way, you do realize that even those who pay for private education pay taxes toward our public schools as well, correct? It just may be that whomever you are referring to, has a valid outlook that could help balance out some of those who may be only protecting their personal interests. (I dont know this, but its possible...)

I have kept up to date on this from day one, and find it infuriating as well. But to me, the most infuriating part is all of the finger pointing and 'Me, me, me' attitute that I contantly see on these blogs. The fact is that there is not enough money to cover what ALL of us would like for our children to have. We're all going to have to make sacrifices so that our children can all have the best education possible within the current budgetary constraints.

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isseldor 3 years, 7 months ago

There is an open online forum at:

pinckneyschooldiscussion.freeforums.org/

Please feel free to submit your ideas.

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jmadison 3 years, 7 months ago

The Wichita school district posts its expenditures on line for perusal by the public. Is it too much to ask the Lawrence school district to do likewise to prevent future slush fund expenditures such as that on the football fields.

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independent_rebel 3 years, 7 months ago

Name the names of the school district employees that should be fired. Name the names of city/county employees that need to be fired. KU employees need to go ton? Which ones? The only "solution" you seem to offer is to fire people. Trim the fat, you say. Tell us who, and why, or quit yipping. I want to know who you would select, if you were in control. So, tell us. Now is your chance. You seem to be on the inside, so do you work for one of these entities?

And what the hell does firing people have to do with any bond issue?

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Moderateguy 3 years, 7 months ago

Go ahead and propose any bond issue you want. It will ultimately pass. Even if the vast majority of online polls and opinions are against it, it will pass. This town hasn't ever seen a tax increase it didn't like. There are way to many zero liability voters and ideologues around here. Oh, and don't forget... "It's for the children..."

Suckers...

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Nikki May 3 years, 7 months ago

I know this is logistics, but closing these schools, what does it do to all day kindergarten? Of the three schools listed: Wakarusa, Cordley, and Pinckney, two are full day kindergarten schools which was started to help "at risk" students. The schools they are looking to "combine" are mostly full day kindergarten also. I don't have kids at these schools, and neither are young enough for kindergarten, but still, it's something I'm curious about.

Obviously, new boundaries are needed. Also, Cordley really is in need of help that is just way too expensive to bring it where it should be. I'm all for restructuring all the boundaries, but I want to see a concrete plan first. Oh, and fix leaky roofs, seriously.

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pace 3 years, 7 months ago

the money Loveland was so proud to be able to use for fancy name changing was the same funds they were suppose to be used for roof repair. They usually defer roof repairs until there is a bond issue they want to see passed. It is a bit of the same trickery used that people who want to destroy historical sites. They have chosen to ignore roof needs until they have made a crisis out of it.

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honestone 3 years, 7 months ago

The help for Cordley isn't too much and...if we had been fixing our schools rather then building over-the-top football stadiums we wouldn't have been having this discussion. BTW did you know that Cordley is the best school for the children that are considered at risk. Most/all the staff is trained in special ed practices.

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pace 3 years, 7 months ago

So far I will be voting no. The school board needs a sea change before I trust them with another dime. I will try to donate to individual class rooms to compensate for the theft of support funds by the state and our school board. It won't be much but better than giving more t money to the state anti education forces or to our school board's elitist and fraudulent spins and plots.

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