The Lawrence Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to seek voter approval for a $92.5 million bond issue, the maximum amount the district could issue without having to get permission to exceed the state cap on bonded indebtedness.
School board members are calling it a "no tax increase" bond proposal because it would not require the district to raise its property tax mill levy. That's because the district is retiring other bonds this year.
Still, they admitted, that may be a hard message to sell to voters.
"The job for us is to ensure we can communicate this to the public, that this is not a luxury, and that these are not only things that are needed but are long, long overdue," said board member Rick Ingram.
Before the vote, board members received the results of a public opinion survey of 400 head-of-household registered voters in the district. According to that poll, 55 percent of those responding said they either favored or strongly favored the bond issue for the purposes that were outlined. That support jumped to 75 percent when they were told the bond issue would not require a tax increase.
The poll was conducted in early December by the Johnson County firm Patron Insight, a consulting firm the board contracted with to measure voter attitudes about the district and the level of public support for a bond issue.
But Ken DeSieghardt, chief executive officer of the company, said the concept of a "no tax increase" bond issue is one that some voters may forget as the campaign moves forward, and one that other voters may never believe.
If approved, most of the bond proceeds — $70.9 million — would be used to upgrade the 14 elementary schools, including expansions at some of the buildings. Most of that would go toward the six "core" elementary schools in older neighborhoods of central and east Lawrence: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
Free State and Lawrence high schools also would be slated for some expansion and remodeling, totaling about $4.5 million.
About $5 million would be dedicated for districtwide technology upgrades, such as enhanced wireless infrastructure at the two high schools and four middle schools.
An additional $5.7 million would be budgeted for mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades at the two high schools and four middle schools. Much of that, officials said, is needed to support and protect the new technology equipment.
Finally, $5.7 million would be earmarked for expanding career and technical education programs at the district's Community Connections Center, 2600 W. 25th St.
Superintendent Rick Doll said the district is in negotiations with Johnson County, Kansas City and Neosho County community colleges to offer four programs at that facility: health science, machine technology, networking and commercial construction.
"None of this is frivolous, or extra, or icing on the cake," said school board president Vanessa Sanburn. "We have some real cake to build when it comes to base services."
Board member Keith Diaz Moore agreed. "It's a description of a project that I think really captures a lot of different values and navigates them very well," he said.