Archive for Friday, February 25, 2011

First Bell: School-closing decision at least a month away; board to amend sex-ed policy; time to accept a $500K-plus donation

February 25, 2011


A few education-oriented items from around the area:

Looks like parents, students and supporters of Wakarusa Valley School will remain in limbo for at least another month, as they await word of whether their school southeast of Clinton Lake will be scheduled for closure next year.

Monday night, members of the Lawrence school board will receive recommendations from the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force. The big one: Close Wakaursa Valley next year.

Board members aren’t scheduled to make any decisions during Monday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. But they will receive the recommendation, and task force leaders will be available — board members Rich Minder and Scott Morgan served as task force co-chairmen — to answer questions.

State rules mandate that a board cannot close a school until after a formal public hearing has been conducted. And no public hearing can be conducted unless the scheduled hearing has appeared in legal notices sometime between 10 and 20 days before the hearing itself.

As it stands now, the recommendation will be scheduled for discussion during the March 14 board meeting. Whether that is a formal public hearing or not remains to be seen.

“The earliest the board could take action to close a school — if they were going to close a school — would be their March 28 meeting,” said Rick Doll, superintendent of the Lawrence school district.


Also during Monday night’s meeting...

Looks like board members will talk sex education.

Board members are scheduled to consider adding some language to the board’s policy regarding Human Sexuality Education, formerly known as Human Sexuality and AIDS Education.

In response to concerns “expressed regarding a reference to ‘minimal’ standards,” said David Cunningham, the district’s director for legal services, human resources and policy, it was “suggested that the policy be amended to require that any curriculum be ‘medically accurate and evidenced based.’ ”

In following board policy, he said, “the suggested changes were reviewed, and with some minor changes, the final draft was submitted to board members for review. No additional comments or suggestions have been made.”

The policy amendment, therefore, is ready for approval.

Again, the meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.


Also Monday: The Lawrence school board will consider formally accepting a donation of more than a half million dollars for restrooms and concessions space at Free State High School.

Specifically, the board will be asked to approve a donation of $529,546 from an “anonymous donor,” according to a memo to the board from Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer, and Tom Bracciano, division director of facilities and maintenance.

Also up for approval: approving a change order to a contract with DFC Company of Lawrence for $529,546.

The decisions are all connected with a contract the board approved in July 2009 with DFC for construction of restrooms and concessions space at Free State. It was a $400,000 contract; the board also accepted a donation to add a locker room and office space to the building, which is at the end of the football field.

Two change orders also had been approved: one for $100,000, financed by a donation; and another for $16,049, bringing the contract amount to $516,049.

Bottom line: The total project cost was $1,045,595, meaning that the difference — $529,546 — would need to be covered by donations.

The donations would cover the following work, all provided by DFC:

• $249,000 for addition of a second floor, above the locker rooms.

• $169,000 for a fire lane and walkways/grading.

• $72,000 for addition of landscaping.

• $39,546 for addition of stone ticket booths.

As far as I know, the district never has disclosed the identity of the anonymous donor, but it has been previously reported as members of the Fritzel family in Lawrence. The registered agent for DFC, by the way, is Tim Fritzel, 643 Mass.

Anyway, approvals are set for Monday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

— The First Bell e-mailbox is always open:


Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

USD 497 school board meetings should be crowded each time they meet from this day forward. Otherwise reckless spending decisions will continue if taxpayers are not available to challenge their decisions. Be there to keep matters in perspective and to prevent USD 497 crisis. The LJW does not provide near enough information about these USD 497 meetings.

On Feb 14 the BOE spent nearly $500,000 on new bleachers. $500,000 would keep Wakrusa Valley school open. I am not clear which fund the bleacher money is coming from but no matter that is a lot of money for bleachers when schools are laying off teachers,cutting programs and closing schools. There are school buildings that need maintenance in which $500,000 would be helpful and should have ultimate priority.

LadyJ 7 years, 1 month ago

Didn't we run into a problem once before with this? Didn't LHS then have to be upgraded at taxpayers expense to keep things equal? I could be wrong, anybody with a better memory recall the details?

Richard Payton 7 years, 1 month ago

Upgrades are needed for such things as asbesto's removal or ada building codes. Your right taxpayers often pay for necessary improvements.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

In spite of all the "pep" talk about the task force meeting it seemed to me some members were NOT necessarily comfortable with the decisions.

From my perspective it kept coming across from the "chair" that decision A or B must be made for reaching consensus. This did seem a bit of manipulating of the process. Denying A and/or B was not an option. Why?

As for finding money to keep schools open and all programs available why not take a hard look at the bus transportation agreement which comes at a cost of $4 million - $4.5 million. The district claims to need $3 million annual savings. Perhaps that $3 million could come from parents that would accept responsibility of getting their children to school???

USD 497 is charged daily depending on the number of passengers each day.

Updating sports facilities when academics is threatened does not fly with me.

guesswho 7 years, 1 month ago

I support keeping schools open, but I don't like to see athletics pitted against academics. For some high school students, athletics are a main thing in keeping them in school and out of trouble. The coaches do it for the love of the sports and the kids, not the money. Their supplement is a pittance.

And, some people do take quality of athletics and facilities into decision -making when deciding where to relocate families.

iquilt 7 years, 1 month ago

Guesswho- so glad you had the guts to post this. This is something that I have been thinging for a long time but been too afraid to say because people are so passionate about this issue. I can attest to what you said after coaching in the public schools for years. Kids get a lot out of participation at any level. Hopefully everyone can see that athletics shouldn't be pitted against academics. Thanks for your post.

repaste 7 years, 1 month ago

Just hypothetical, donate money for project that you do the work, donate to yourself? Does it work tax-wise? Is it quasi-legal or generous great deal?

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 1 month ago

"State rules mandate that a board cannot close a school until after a formal public hearing has been conducted. And no public hearing can be conducted unless the scheduled hearing has appeared in legal notices sometime between 10 and 20 days before the hearing itself."

Very interesting. So in other words, the School Board can't close any school without a formal, noticed hearing. I wonder how that applies if a school has to be closed for a health hazard. Or, if a capital improvement needs to be made that exceeds available capital reserves?

William Weissbeck 7 years, 1 month ago

$529,000 for a football stadium! Donation or not, doesn't anyone see the stupidity of this? Just keep the grass watered and mowed. We really do have some mis-placed priorities.

greywolf85203 7 years, 1 month ago

I say that it really suspicious that all of a sudden that nearly the same amount of money that would "save" the district for closing Wakarusa school is nearly the same amount that a "anonymous donor" is giving Freestate. Why must they help schools that don't need it. Also for those that want to “close them and move on" it is not that easy. Those children do not go away they will be sent to schools that have full classes in the grades that will remain k-5. I have a child in one of the effected schools and honestly I'm not really pleased that grades that are already full are going to have even more children. Do you really think they will lower the teacher child ratio so that more teachers can have jobs? If you do think again. Even if they do close Wakarusa Valley there is still money to be found. Support staff will be cut, teachers will be cut, and more loses to our children's education. No wonder there are so many schools in this district that are not making the annual yearly progress that was set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Oh yeah while we are on that subject what happens when they cut support staff and children with learning disabilities are no longer receiving the support they are legally mandated by their IEP's? Hmmmm before we start saying "close them and move on" look at the big picture here. I think there are other places that could be cut starting with some unnecessary spending by the district office.

hail2oldku 7 years, 1 month ago

Maybe I'm reading this whole thing incorrectly. It appears that the company is asking for recognition of the total costs of work already completed (and in theory donated) not for additional work on the complex.

I can understand your anger regarding the closure of a school. I also understand that those kids have to go somewhere else which will lead to crowded classrooms at those other facilities. The closing of Wakarusa and the approval of this change order though are mutually exclusive of each other.

buffalo63 7 years, 1 month ago

I remember very clearly Mary Loveland explaining that extra locker rooms might be needed at Free State or the half time would need to be longer so teams could walk the distance to the school building itself. I had no problem with that, but to find out after construction that a second floor was added, (and more than just locker rooms), it seems that this whole project just got out of hand. If LHS wants to do something "equal", the fact that they have to raise over $500,000.00 is plain stupid. I don't think the Board actually knows or will ever admit to the total amount they have spent on these fields...and they are still not finished after three years. At the end of December there were legal notices in the paper stating that, if they aren't presented a petition to hold an election, they can raise the mill levee. How many people saw that?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

Feb 14 2011 about $500,000 was approved for new bleachers for this sports project

When USD 497 has millions in building maintenance over due why is $500,000 for bleachers more important?

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