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.