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Archive for Wednesday, August 15, 2012

School caution

August 15, 2012

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Caution and vision should be the watchwords if the Lawrence school board proceeds with plans for an April bond issue.

The board has hired a local architectural firm to lead it through the pre-bond planning process, hoping to gain public approval of funds to support elementary schools, especially those in east and central Lawrence, as well as to address technology needs and expansion of high school career and technical programs.

Although the superintendent and the board have discussed a “no-tax-increase” bond and a “tax decrease” bond (meaning the new bond would be offset by expiring debt), it’s important for the district to realize it is not operating in a static environment. Unless district leaders have an accurate crystal ball, no one can make any optimistic assumptions about future state aid, the lack of which could trigger the need for more local funding. And the district’s surplus already has shrunk. Those are reasons for caution.

A vision for the district also is needed. Perhaps the board members recognize this. They spent part of their time Monday night brainstorming how to engage and inform the public about the district’s needs, in order to build support for the April bond issue. However, it would be well to remember that not too long ago, the community was engaged in long and ultimately fruitless discussions about closing schools and building new schools. Now we apparently are planning to improve and enhance what we already have.

The difficulties of dealing with a regularly changing, volunteer board underscore the need for a long-range vision of how to serve the district’s school-age population. Although the board and administration deserve thanks for acting Monday night to lower the district’s mill levy, the fact that no long-range vision has been articulated and presented to the community is surely what makes residents and voters leery of the proposal du jour for more money from local taxpayers.

Caution. Vision.

Comments

aryastark1984 1 year, 8 months ago

I think that my head is going to explode. I am so tired of the misinformation and lack of information from the LJW

1) This is a fiscally prudent bond. Maintaining existing facilities and upgrading them was a much more responsible choice than if we had adopted any of the fantastical plans to consolidate and build. Lets be logical here, you don't buy a new house because you need a new roof.

2) Some of the improvements that would be paid for by the bond would actually reduce operating costs by increasing energy efficiency.

3) Merril- The prior board signed a new 5 year contract with the bus company. Like many of the decisions from the prior board, this board is left to sweep up the pieces.

4) Finally and most importantly, no matter what comes down from Topeka, we still need to educate these kids. If Topeka suddenly slashes and burns the budget, it does not make the kids go away. And, we have treated elementary students downright shamefully. The elementary years absolutely determine a child's educational trajectory. Yet, whenever there are budget problems, the go-to idea is to take money out of elementary eduction- close elementary schools, increase class sizes (and these two things are absolutely causally linked), cut paras. This is not only shameful, it is short sighted.

The most important mission of public education is to educate future citizens. So, we should look at every dollar and ask, does this dollar improve educational outcomes? Where have we spent our money? Well, we have the best darn football fields in the country. Beautiful fields, concession stand, lights, turf, and LIMESTONE BLEACHERS!!! In contrast we have elementary kids going to classes in portables. We have cafeterias that double as gymnasiums. We have schools that need new boilers and new HVAC systems. Would improvements to these elementary schools improve education? I can't guarantee it. But, I think that it is far more likely that climate and sound controlled rooms improve education than it is that educational improvements will be transferred from limestone bleachers to the brain via the seat of a students pants.

Come on LJW, where are your priorities? This is yet another instance of "hard choices" being code for taking it out of the hide of the youngest, and most powerless members of the community. It is downright shameful.

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 8 months ago

We need a strategic plan with estimated costs and a timeline for using the existing facilities budget. Then, maybe in a year or two, after I have seen some progress, I could be convinced to vote for a bond. . . that is, if it does not mention the word "other". School boards come and go. The bond would be with us for a while.

P.S. The editor is right on. In our current economic and political climate, we cannot project a budget.

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Chris Ogle 1 year, 8 months ago

Anyone heard from merrill latey????

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

Bottom line there needs a plan B to get this rehab action underway if a bond is put forth and fails.

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William Ed 1 year, 8 months ago

Preparing a bond is a terrible waste of effort and time. Kathy Johnson can hardly keep track of what is on here plate, and now she is being asked to prepare a bond issue which is doomed already and spend money on a local architect to do something that our own administration people know how to do. When will it ever stop..???

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LadyJ 1 year, 8 months ago

Since it is the first day of school, I thought the headline meant it would be about slowing down and watching for kids.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

In addition to the above

At $7.5 million USD 497 tax dollars a year in capital outlay funds this maintenance could be accomplished in 3-4 years without raising taxes or borrowing money. That money should be available as we speak.

In fact USD 497 2011 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities suggests $6,440,000 could be spent on the school rehab project.... IMO.

I say time for a discussion of this combo finance plan is due.

The governor simply does not support public education. Sam Brownback would rather throw tax dollars at "corporate run schools". Not too smart.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

To avoid a bond issue would USD 497 work to put a combination of tax dollar sources together to accomplish this desperately necessary project? Perhaps a 4-5 year project written in stone!!

Think about saving $3 million annually on the school bus contract?

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.

Parents would you be willing to find other means to get your students to school IF it meant getting rid of portable buildings keeping all the schools open keeping teachers employed retaining important subject matter and programs

Think car pooling,family members ,walking and biking.

Can WE come up with $3 million towards the rehab project? Maybe

IF 75% of students were no longer on a school bus( parents responsibility) 75% of $4,000,000 = $3,000,000 (million) 75% of $4,500,000 = $3,375,000(million)

Put that new reckless purchase of 75 acres @ $23,000 per acre back on the market

Think about selling the extravagant admin headquarters and moving into the Centennial Elementary School building. Time to make better use of existing resources.

In addition to the above

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? Go slowly taxpayers say in the LJW poll. 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

This BOE wants to get rid of portable buildings. How many times did previous boards promise the school district such a notion would be accomplished? Why did previous BOE"s spend on PLAY instead of education?

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

WE are USD 497 Stakeholders!

To maintain a superb system parents must remain active which means we cannot allow school boards to dictate what will be. As taxpayers we are also the most important stakeholders who elect school boards to carry out our wishes not the other way around.

Our founding fathers wanted to insure Democracy for our country. Benjamin Franklin created the public library, the purpose being no citizen will be secluded from public knowledge. He also founded the public school, the purpose being no citizen will be without a basic education.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

If any tax increase presents itself it should be applied to salaries. This demonstrates the exercise of good judgment and/or common sense… can we say prudent?

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

"Now we apparently are planning to improve and enhance what we already have." The smart fiscal conservative choice....absolutely.

Because the previous board blew $20 million or more on PLAY this bond will likely not pass. The previous BOE displayed a show of grand disrespect for the USD 497 taxpayers.... because they could. They ignored taxpayers respect for fiscal responsibility. The $20 million blown on PLAY would have covered the cost of maintaining taxpayer owned property. PLAY was a reckless decision

Does this spell doom and gloom for rehabilitation of taxpayer owned properties? Not necessarily.

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LeBo 1 year, 8 months ago

Let's see if the Westside will support the Eastside of Lawrence?

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