Archive for Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lawrence school board members differ on bond’s anticipated fate

Representatives of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group attended Monday night's meeting of the Lawrence school board. Their task: Ask the elected officials for clarification on issues affecting the group's work. In the front row, from left, are group members (and school communities they represent): Chris Lempa (New York), Dawn Shew (Kennedy), Chuck Epp (Cordley), Michell Iwig-Harmon (Woodlawn) and Dennis Hill (Hillcrest). In the row behind them are Julie Boyle, the district's communications director, and group members David Unekis (Pinckney) and Daisy Wakefield (Sunset Hill).

Representatives of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group attended Monday night's meeting of the Lawrence school board. Their task: Ask the elected officials for clarification on issues affecting the group's work. In the front row, from left, are group members (and school communities they represent): Chris Lempa (New York), Dawn Shew (Kennedy), Chuck Epp (Cordley), Michell Iwig-Harmon (Woodlawn) and Dennis Hill (Hillcrest). In the row behind them are Julie Boyle, the district's communications director, and group members David Unekis (Pinckney) and Daisy Wakefield (Sunset Hill).

October 25, 2011


Members of the Lawrence school board clarified their instructions Monday for advisers envisioning scenarios for consolidating — as directed — two or three of six elementary schools during the next two to three years:

° Don’t allow talk of “magnet” or other theme-based schools to cloud their deliberations.

° Don’t let questions about each building’s capacity stop “creative” suggestions.

° And don’t, under any circumstances, recommend plans for consolidating schools without first assuming that voters will approve a bond issue to upgrade schools, add classrooms or even build a new school or two to make it all happen.

Just come up with a plan, they told representatives of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, and the board and broader community would get a chance to compile a bond issue that might not even require a tax increase, given that previous bond issues soon will be going off the books.

“I think that this is a really good environment,” said Vanessa Sanburn, in her third year on the board. “I do think it’s important that people recognize that this is a particular opportunity that we have in order to make an investment in schools.”

While fellow board member Shannon Kimball also expressed some optimism that a bond issue could pass, at least two other board members — Bob Byers and Rick Ingram — expressed doubt that such a financial plan could succeed.

Byers, who already has voted to cut programs, boost class sizes and close Wakarusa Valley School, doesn’t see the financial picture improving anytime soon. The state likely will continue to reduce the amount of money it sends to the district, he said, forcing yet another round of difficult choices.

And he doesn’t expect voters to step up and approve spending millions of dollars to fix, upgrade or build schools, either.

“I don’t see that a bond issue is likely to pass,” he said.

Such talk about the future came Monday at the request of the board-appointed consolidation working group, whose volunteer members have until the end of January to recommend which of their schools should be consolidated so that the district could reduce operational costs to offset revenue losses and perhaps finance other desired programs and needs.

The group’s members come from the communities of the six schools being considered for consolidation — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — plus Woodlawn, which is not a consolidation candidate.

The working group was formed near the end of the previous school year, by a school board that already has agreed to close Wakarusa Valley at the recommendation of another advisory group. That group, a task force, had met for eight months and suggested seeking a consolidation plan from the communities that would be most affected.

The thinking: If the six communities, plus Woodlawn, could come up with a single plan — one that would include fixing problems and adding classrooms at remaining schools, or even building a new school or schools — then the public could buy into a bond issue to make it happen.

Good luck, Ingram said Monday night.

Asking the group to reach consensus on which schools to close already seems “probably almost impossible,” he said, but then asking the public to approve spending millions of dollars on construction — all so that the district can wring more savings from elementary operations, perhaps without making cuts at the secondary levels — doesn’t make much sense.

“Honestly, I think a bond passing is a long shot, in the best of circumstances,” Ingram said. “And these are not the best of circumstances.”

Members of the working group meet again at 7 p.m. Nov. 7, at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. That’s when they will be scheduled to start proposing, discussing and considering potential consolidation scenarios, ones that are to be devised in anticipation of voters approving the financing to get them all done.

That’s the plan, anyway.

“If the bond doesn’t go, then we go back to the drawing board,” said Randy Masten, a board member elected in April and who took office in July.


pinecreek 6 years, 1 month ago

Ingram is correct, good luck getting another bond issue to build yet another building when they want to close some that they already have. Use what you have to best effect until economic times are better.

And while you're at it, take a serious look at your internal staffing and pay grades starting with administrators at each building and 'coordinators' across the district. There is a lot of money to be saved there--when the district is down to true 'minimum staffing', come back and ask taxpayers to consider new funding. Until then, use what you have and get back to basics.

conservative 6 years, 1 month ago

@ pinecreek. savings from cutting staff is exactly why they should be consolidating schhols. For every one they close they get a principal, office staff, lunch staff, and custodial staff off the payroll. Plus most of the buildings up for consolidation are older and in need of lots of capital improvements if they are kept open.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

Conservative? Really? Cutting the salaries of the principal, office staff, lunch staff and custodian, will save less that a half a million per year. We know that based on the savings from Wakarusa. Now lets do the math. New schools are not free. We will pay for them by passing a bond and paying for it via property taxes. So, lets say for the sake of argument that a new school will cost 20 million. It will take 40 years to pay that investment back. You say 20 million is way too high? Assume 10 million, now you are down to 20 years. That seems the very opposite of conservative to me.

Kookamooka 6 years, 1 month ago

Cut from the top before you cut from the kids. Administration...that means you.

buffalo63 6 years, 1 month ago

My question about the bond issue is based on the recent bond issued that passed. How much of the bond money will actually go to the project(s) and how much will be diverted to other uses (like the athletic fields)? How much of the last project was cut in order to have the "extra" money? How much of the material, equipment, etc. purchased was inferior, cheaper or used than originally proposed? While I have always voted for school bond issues, it will have to take a lot of trust that the right thing will be done. Right now I have none on anything this administration proposes.

LadyJ 6 years, 1 month ago

Just thought I would throw this into the mix. Maybe we could learn something from them. If a small Kansas town can do it, maybe we should take a look.

TongiJayhawk 6 years, 1 month ago

I read that as well. Perfect example that poor kids and a school district with limited funds can still provide a quality education! Not speaking for the Lawrence situation but throwing more and more money at the education problem is not necessarily the answer.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for sharing this. It is really nice to read a positive story about education. So, tired of hearing how bad it is.

There is no mystery as to why this school has such success. They have a very small school 385 (k-12) and small class sizes k-3rd grade (12-15). It sounds like teachers are treated with respect and the community is involved and invested in education.

LadyJ 6 years, 1 month ago

I particularly liked this part "We don't believe in the next biggest thing or the next biggest theory. We've not made any major changes," he said.

grimpeur 6 years, 1 month ago

And who in their right mind would support a needed bond issue when the previous bond went almost entirely to build stadia that weren't even on the list of projects as late as 2005?

Q: who could have suspected that educational facilities were in need of upgrading while millions were being thrown at overblown sports facilities?

A: just about anyone paying attention.

Yeah. you could say a bond is a long shot. Or you could say that the board would have to be crazy to propose one at this point. Doesn't matter that the current stadium bait-and-switch bonds are going to expire. The board decided to spend money it already had on stadiums while ignoring needed maintenance.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

There is evidence that USD 497 does have the money to rehab all elementary schools without increasing taxes or shoving a bond issue down our throats. This rehab could be accomplished over a three year period. This is smart spending.

Do taxpayers want to spend more on the school bus approach? I say let's spend less and be smart.

How many ways are at the disposal of USD 497 to make the existing elementary school buildings solve our problems? Save $3 million on bussing?

Something to think about as we must assume Brownback will reduce public school spending and open more local doors for tax dollar increases.

USD 497 budgets $4-4.5 million to bus students. The district is charged at a daily rate depending on how many students use the transportation.

Would parents be willing to find other means for getting students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open,teachers employed and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Think car pooling,family members, The T ,walking and biking etc etc etc.

USD 497 said it needed $3 million in 2011. Are WE USD 497 taxpayers willing to come up with $3 million? Laying off teachers is not the answer.

Public school students use the T as we speak. Can the T provide service to some parents for less money? How many ways can the T assist USD 497 parents.

IF 75% of students were no longer bussed: 75% of $4,000,000 = $3,000,000 (million)

75% of $4,500,000 = $3,375,000

Exactly how is school consolidation the most fiscal responsible avenue? Where is the hard evidence? Says who?

Gary Denning 6 years, 1 month ago

I'm usually on the side of public schools in these types of debates, but the school district needs to understand that the financial aspect of their decision making process is important. They should not be making decisions as if the dollars don't matter.

Mark Jakubauskas 6 years, 1 month ago

Bond issue ? BOND ISSUE ? Ha!

I'll be the first in line to vote in favor of a bond issue if the money is going to fix schools, and upgrade academic facilities. I thought the last bond issue was for those things, but I guess I was stupid: I gave you money in the last bond issue to fix these problems, and like a beggar who takes the money given for food and spends it on a bottle of cheap booze, ya ran out and spent it on a bunch of athletic fields instead.

You could have fixed a lot of problems with the school buildings with the money squandered on concession stands, locker rooms, and Astroturf. Don't use the ADA problems at Cordley as an excuse to close it. ADA was passed in 1996, and you've had 15 years to fix the problem, and didn't. You had the money, USD 497, I voted for it, and you blew it on non-essentials. You don't buy a brand new car if your roof is leaking!

I got fooled once, and it's gonna take a heckuva lot of explaining and persuading to get me to vote in favor of a bond issue again without thinking that I - and everyone else - got taken in by a bait-and-switch in the last one.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

Here is what I don't understand. We are in a time of economic uncertainty with regard to funding. Topeka is telling us that the old funding formula may not apply in the future. Currently, operating costs ($ that goes to day to day classroom instruction and day to day operations) are defined by a fixed formula of base state aid + local option budget. In contrast, we are limited only by tax payer generosity when it comes to capital outlay (building costs). In that scenario, it might makes (at least some) sense to consolidate schools.

Now, we are hearing rumblings from Topeka that they are going to cut base state aid to the bone and perhaps remove the cap on how much money we can raise via the local option budget. With this budget scenario, it makes NO SENSE to consolidate.

Will this come to pass? Who knows. But, with this uncertainty, it would be crazy to limit your options.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

No. You are just plain wrong. The last time they tried to pass a bond following school closures, it failed.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 1 month ago

The school board found money for two sports complexes without a bond issue. Surely, they can find the money to maintain the school buildings we already have without a bond issue

Clevercowgirl 6 years, 1 month ago

The School Board members that think a bond could possibly pass need to quit drinking the Dole/Morgan koolaid. (Yes, I know Morgan is gone, but his legacy remains).

My husband told me a fun fact: not a single school bond issue has passed in our state in two years. Not to mention, it is the height of foolishness to pass a bond for anything, when the possibility of our schools loosing major funding is looming. We may be faced with a radical change in how schools are funded, and I mean the funding structure itself. We may need to re-vamp our whole school finance system to function from funds originating at the local level.

So, in my opinion, the school district should do as the rest of us: just try to keep spending to a minimum, until we see what our financial future holds. How we plan any major projects (new schools) when we really don't know how much money we'll need to have next year, is beyond me.

Bob Forer 6 years, 1 month ago

Somebody help me out here. What is the rational basis for closing schools yet anticipating the passage of a bond issue for new construction. Maybe I am a little dense, but that sure doesn't make financial sense to me.

pace 6 years, 1 month ago

Raising teacher salaries and reducing class size is all I am interested in. The school administration lets roofs go, they build rome arenas. Raising teachers salaries and reducing class size is all I am interested in. Smaller classes, good teachers, if they don't keep up maintenance on the building, sue them for malfeasance of office.

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