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Archive for Monday, December 17, 2012

Lawrence school board to seek $92.5 million bond issue

December 17, 2012

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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.

Comments

Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

A no tax increase bond issue I will support. Our taxpayer owned public schools have been neglected for too many years. It's time to step up and eliminate that mentality.

Maintaining our existing taxpayer owned properties is good use of tax dollars. Hopefully it is written in such a fashion that no tax dollars can be skimmed off for sports improvements.

Replacing portable class rooms will finally be accomplished.

I would rather USD 497 would drop commercial construction and bring forth renewable energy training. This is technical training that is and will be in high demand for a long time to come.

Thank you USD 497 School Board.

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Steve Jacob 1 year, 9 months ago

Vote no! They could have cut cost by closing schools, but hired a fake consultant to lie about increases in enrollment that did not happen.

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Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 9 months ago

How can they say it is not a tax increase as when they retire the current bonds then there would be a tax decrease. The old bonds are retired... tax decrease... issue new bonds... that my friend is a tax increase no matter how you cut it.

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Caz Snwot 1 year, 9 months ago

I can't agree more. It's tough times. It's time to put a little extra coin in the pockets of our citizens.

1

usesomesense 1 year, 9 months ago

This is a rush to grab the cash before the impending retirement of these bonds. This leads to an uninformed public and spending for spending's sake.

If we really need all this 'stuff' sell us on it. Don't just holler 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain'. The fact is that we'll likely need to build, replace or repair something in the next 5 to 10 years and if we blow almost $100M now just because the public won't 'notice' it'll be a lot harder to get done.

Also - I'm sure I could put very significant 'wireless infrastructure improvements' at the two high schools and four middle schools for less than the proposed $830k per school!

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TNPlates 1 year, 9 months ago

No way. Maybe 20-40 years ago, but not today. If we want State of the Art schools to replace our current ones (and schools that would last for decades like our older ones today), maybe that money could build 2-3, then we'd still have a handful of schools needing much needed repairs.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

It's a smart move by USD 497.

This will help boost property values throughout the school district. Many students will still be able to walk to school.

Won't need to spend any more money for school bus transportation thus saving more tax dollars from going out the exhaust pipes.

Meanwhile city hall expands the budget with more and more new spending....

Hats off to the USD 497 school board.

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happyp 1 year, 9 months ago

Spending over $70 million just so some students can still walk to school is crazy. We need to build new larger elementary schools to accommodate the needs of the students in the classroom. Oh yes, and consolidate schools in order to do this. That decision was previously made and this board changed it.

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buffalo63 1 year, 9 months ago

I might vote for it if they can explain how and where in detail they will spend the money. They also need to guarentee the money will actually be spent. No short cuts to save for other projects later that voters didn't approve, e.g. athletic fields.

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gccs14r 1 year, 9 months ago

No, and that's why I'll vote no this time.

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

This school board has been providing information. As jafs pointed out, it was the generic "capital improvements" reference that allowed the previous board to redirect money for the athletic fields.

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GardenMomma 1 year, 9 months ago

"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."

Hmmm, let's see, $4.5 million plus $5 million plus $5.7 million equals.... Oh my heavens!!! It equals $15.2 million! Now, how much was "leftover" from the previous bond (back in 2004 or 2006) that was supposed to pay for expanding the Jr. High and High Schools and also for technology improvements at those schools? Why, I do believe it was $15 million, wasn't it?

But remember, this is a NEW school board. The people who made the biggest push for irresponsible choices are no longer on the board.

These things, especially for the elementary schools, are needed now (were needed ages ago) and just because the board made bad choices then, doesn't negate the need now.

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TNPlates 1 year, 9 months ago

There's no doubt the schools have been neglected and are in need of upgrades, etc. The thing that bothers me is that they still haven't honestly acknowledged the recommendations of the consolidation task force or addressed ESL. Yes we need ESL and it's vital, but it doesn't need to be at the schools it's at, if the only reasons those schools remain open is to accommodate ESL.
I haven't decided if I'll vote for this bond or not, but with folks like Ingram on this Board who's sole goal is to defend his child's turf, it does give me pause.

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

I am not aware of any luxuries. Can you give examples?

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Scattered 1 year, 9 months ago

I sincerely hope that the elementary school improvements are made, enabling the neighborhood school system to continue. Closing smaller schools and incorporating is a HUGE mistake, evidenced by countless studies.

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kuguardgrl13 1 year, 9 months ago

Exactly. Why would we build brand new, cheaply built schools when we have schools that are close to 90 years old that are still standing? When the furnace in your house breaks down, you don't tear down your house and build a brand new one. Why should we do that with our schools? USD 497 has laid out exactly what needs to be done at each school. While some of these things are wants instead of needs (separate gyms and cafeterias comes to mind), they improve the central and east schools to be comparable to the newer west schools. Therefore, no parent in USD 497 should be able to say that their child's school is nicer or worse than any other. There have been complaints from western school parents that their buildings will not receive as much attention. Those schools do not need the attention that the others do. They have not been neglected by school board after school board until they are literally falling down. As for consolidation, would you deny parents and students the right to protect their schools? While I am not a USD 497 parent or student, I would so much rather have my tax dollars go to repairing and improving existing buildings than building some monstrosity that resembles a prison. Lawrence is unique with such buildings as Pinckney and Central. All of the schools I went to were built in the 1960s or later (KU being the exception). Why should we waste money building new when we can still repair what we have? For the sake of our children, vote for this bond. I know there is mistrust among voters from previous bonds, but that doesn't negate the fact that our kids go to school in buildings that are long overdue for basic repairs.

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Elderberry 1 year, 9 months ago

Thanks for making some great points. Just to add some thoughts to one of them....60 to 80 years ago when the older schools were built, a separate gym and lunchroom was probably considered a "want" if it was considered at all. There were less students and they either brought their lunch or walked home to eat. Today, having both is the norm as is evidenced by every school building in town built within the last 40 years as well as several that have had additions. And it is a "need" as staff expend precious time trying to schedule and set up/take down/clean up so everyone has time to eat lunch and all get through PE in a day. The staff are to be commended for "making it work" for so long, but having adequate and equitable space for all students across the district is a need. And one I wholeheartedly support my tax dollars being used to remedy.

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Centerville 1 year, 9 months ago

Break out the Potemkin Village of disrepair! Use the same one as last time, as the LJW surely won't notice.

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WilburM 1 year, 9 months ago

The School Board shuld ahve come in with a (say)$50M bond issue. this would leave room for some tax decrease, while also leaving room for a subsequent bond if the state decreases its reveues inthe next couple years, which seems likely. I supported all the new members of the board, but I don't see much healthy skepticism here.

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Hadley_says 1 year, 9 months ago

They've been planning this bond election for far more than 2 years.... so why didn't they plan to have it at the November presidential election, where the most people vote?

Anyone? Buhler? Anyone?

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

Local issues get more attention when they are not combine with national elections. We have local elections in the spring. Wouldn't you want the voters to concentrate on the purpose for the bond request?

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Bob_Loblaw 1 year, 9 months ago

Interesting....All the idiots posting on here against this either don't have children or are old and want to just be contrary in posting to get out personal life frustrations. It 's very easy to ascertain this from the comments.

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jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Calling people "idiots" for not agreeing with you isn't useful.

Although we don't have children, I'm generally a strong supporter of public education, and don't complain that about 1/2 of my property tax bill goes to the schools.

I voted for the last bond I can recall, for "capital improvements", and was horrified that they spent about $2 million of that on new athletic fields, not at all what I was voting for.

After that experience, I am cautious about voting for more school bonds, and will read the wording very carefully to ensure that sort of thing won't happen again.

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Bob_Loblaw 1 year, 9 months ago

jafs: Agreed...poor choice of words on my part. This bond is line itemized and is not just going into a general "capital improvements" fund. The one you reference was not specific and so they used it poorly with no oversight. The alternative is to allow further deterioration of schools or another bond to build new schools....its a bond regardless.

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jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Thanks.

Even with that, I'm not sure I support all of what they're asking for - I'd have to look more specifically at it.

Basic repair and upkeep are important and necessary, of course. But, I'm not as sure about all of the tech stuff, especially right now.

1

gccs14r 1 year, 9 months ago

Technology changes so quickly now that by the time they put the contracts out for bid, they'll get proposals for outdated equipment that will be museum-ready by the time it's deployed.

At this point, the technology infrastructure in schools should be just network access and maybe a printer. The kids will always have newer technology than a bureaucracy can spec and procure.

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Peter Hancock 1 year, 9 months ago

Very interesting discussion. Glad to see there is so much community interest in the topic, whether you're for or against it.

A couple of points that might be helpful to folks:

First, the idea of issuing bonds is no different than taking out a mortgage or a car loan. The idea is that when you're launching a major project, you stretch out the payments over the expected life of the project. That's especially true with public investments (roads, bridges, buildings) because it means everyone who benefits from the project (including those who come along in future years) will share in the cost of it.

The question of whether or not taxes go up as a result is complicated. Douglas County is expecting to see a decline in total assessed valuation next year, mainly because property had been over-valued in the past. But it may not be as bad as it could have been because it now looks like the real estate market is picking up again.

There may be a good argument to be made that now is a good time to let taxes go down a bit. One can also make the argument, as some board members are, that this is the best time to borrow money because interest rates are at record lows.

The Journal-World will be covering these questions in more depth as we approach Election Day. Meanwhile, it's always good to know what questions are on your minds.

  • Peter Hancock
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kinder_world 1 year, 9 months ago

Below is what was posted on USD website. Most of it is double speak. Make them spell out exactly what they intend to do. For example one of the items on the Deerfield school chart that needed to be fixed: ""cafeteria, with an institutional quality, does not serve well as a learning environment."" Ummm, which students are taking cooking classes? Here is another one: ""conference room is in low range of district average square footage"" Ummmm, really. They also say the need public restrooms for gym - the restrooms are just outside and down the hall from the gym. Commuinty⁄ PTO space - why? They cannot use the library or cafeteria space, come on. Public restroom - so what are the current restrooms? The lists of rinky dinky things to just keep on spending money. Not really repairing, just whatever they can think up to spend money on.

From USD website: Larger elementary classrooms that provide better opportunities for break-out and in-class multi-modal learning activities Elementary resource spaces that are flexible and dispersed throughout schools, creating multiple learning environments for students and appropriate collaboration/office space for teachers Elementary special education spaces that enable sensory learning activities and are equipped with restrooms and adequate storage Districtwide infrastructure improvements supporting instructional technology Districtwide upgrades to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems Accessibility Security, especially as it pertains to school entrances, and campus safety (pickup/dropoff and parking areas) Additional classroom capacity (Free State High) and enlarged common spaces (Lawrence High kitchen/cafeteria) Building capacity to accommodate elementary growth Assessing elementary priorities Sustainable/energy efficiency initiatives

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William Ed 1 year, 9 months ago

Isn’t pot only legal in Washington and Colorado?

When you take out a loan the purpose is to pay it off, not take out another one to replace the one that was just paid off. Wouldn’t we all like a tax decrease?

For some reason Gould Evans lost their focus. In their Scope of Service, the administration directed them to “develop a strategy that balances the many space, land use, academic infrastructure needs of the Lawrence Public Schools...”

Phase 3.00a of the Scope of Sevices, reads: “Develop alternatives for each of the 6 primary schools, addressing immediate and long term programmatic needs, 21st century learning technology, and a framework that supports that which makes each school unique.”

If you follow the guidance provided by the administration, shouldn’t they have considered the spaces that are available to the district, i.e. East Heights, Centennial and Wakarusa as well as the unused space in The McDonald Drive building, not just the “6 primary” schools

The community is being asked to pay for more classrooms, when there is already a surplus of classroom space.

By the way, the 21st Century concept that they refer is called “blended learning.” That means the teacher divides the class into three subgroups. One she teaches, one does a project, and the third works on the computer, just like home schoolers. Sounds like business as usual, except the computers are in the classroom.

0

gccs14r 1 year, 9 months ago

Let's make sure basic structural needs are met (building shell, roofs, windows, doors, HVAC, electrical, plumbing), make sure students aren't having to share textbooks, and give the taxpayers a breather before embarking on a $90 million spending spree for things that have a 3-year lifespan. A bond issue for technology is ridiculous, because the technology will be in a Chinese landfill before the first property tax assessments go out.

0

Katara 1 year, 9 months ago

Actually using technology can keep students from having to share textbooks. I don't know if it is in the plan for this district but other districts are finding that textbooks online or as ebooks are much cheaper than print textbooks. And updates to the textbooks are much easier to obtain and much less expensive than buying all new textbooks.

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

There is no research to indicate that tablets are as effective as books. Technology should be used cautiously. Not all old ways are bad. Technology is a good thing if used wisely.

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Katara 1 year, 9 months ago

In order to update a book, you have to buy new books. To update an ebook, you just download it. And it doesn't have to be a tablet. An eReader is perfectly fine.

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aRobot 1 year, 9 months ago

It would be interesting to see the qualifications of the technology group at USD497. It is my understanding that not one person on the tech staff has a current or relevant certification for current networking and wireless technologies. No educational background in networking, wireless, or IT management.

Get qualified people to manage and oversee the USD497 network. That would be a good step to take before giving them millions of additional dollars to spend on "experimenting with technology."

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aRobot 1 year, 9 months ago

LJW Staff - Could you please publish a list of the IT Department's Network staff and their education, current certifications, and experience? Seems like that information would be extremely relevant to the technology part of this bond issue.

The school district uses Cisco equipment for its network and wireless. There are a number of Cisco certifications that are typically standard requirements for Network staff in most tech departments that utilize Cisco equipment. Could we get a list of the Cisco certifications that the USD497 tech department possesses?

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

Wakarusa is a great school and should be reopened, in my opinion. Wouldn't it be better to have the school opened and the bond issue passed?

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gccs14r 1 year, 9 months ago

Some things should be considered to be utilities, not widgets. Education is one of them. Utilities are best left to government, not the private sector, because there is a fixed cost for delivering quality service in a timely manner and trying to extract profit from it means that either the cost to users goes up or the service declines.

0

roosmom 1 year, 9 months ago

Before making a comment about what they will do, sit in on an acutal meeting at one of the schools that discusses the changes proposed. Then make an educated comment. One of the focuses of the bond will be to change the entrances of several schools to increase school safety. I will vote yes. Our children need this.

0

Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 9 months ago

This bond issue is the teacher unions cash cow. Get the money...use accounting tricks to move from fund to fund and then into benefits and pay. This has very little to do with upgrading facilities. It has everything to do with keeping the cash coming in, and then determining what to squander it on.

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streetman 1 year, 9 months ago

This Board isn't even trying to be frugal -- wanting to spend the max simply because it could be done without getting approval to exceed an arbitrary "cap." Apparently, if the cap were $ 150 M, THAT would have been the proposed amount.

1

KiferGhost 1 year, 9 months ago

I"ve read that many of the big wigs out in Silicon Valley send their kids to schools where there is no technology. Not sure why they would intentionally disadvantage their kids that way.

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gccs14r 1 year, 9 months ago

Probably because they understand that what's important is education, not toys. Words on a page + lecture + class participation + homework + engaged parents + quality educators = educated children. Pictures on a screen + bubble tests + sports emphasis + expensive tech toys + apathetic parents + "good enough" teachers = children with little knowledge, no critical thinking skills, and an inability to communicate.

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KiferGhost 1 year, 9 months ago

""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."

That's right, we had the money to spend on the luxury over the last four or five years building the sportsplexes. No it is time to act like adults and fix the schools to do what schools should be doing?

0

Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

Come on, one-eye, You do not have to pick on people to make a point. You could do better.

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Peter Hancock 1 year, 9 months ago

Watch the Journal-World in the next day or so for more detailed explanation of what happened with the 2005 bond issue. There appears to be quite a bit of misunderstanding floating around the community. Meanwhile, the upcoming bond proposal contains many, many moving parts. It is very difficult to fit it all into a single daily story. We'll do our best in the coming weeks and months to spell out exactly what the proposal is for, in as much detail as we can. These are excellent questions, and this kind of discussion helps inform me about what the community wants/needs to know.

  • Peter Hancock
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aRobot 1 year, 9 months ago

This is CRAZY. 90+ million dollars?

I have a way to make this very very simple - 2 bonds.

The first bond is exclusively for needed updates and repairs. There will be a very defined list of things for the money to be spent on before the bond is approved. We can vote YES on that bond.

The second bond will contain all the nonsense and fluff that is completely unnecessary. We can vote NO on that one.

I find it completely ridiculous that a bond of this size is "needed."

Come on, school board and district leadership, learn the difference between needs and wants. They teach it to the children in the schools. Until you separate the needs from the wants and make two different proposals I have no choice but to vote NO on this bond.

0

Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

According to one of the LJW articles, the board is asking the administration to determine how much of the repairs could be done out of the regular budget.

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aRobot 1 year, 9 months ago

Journal World Staff - Please try to get us a list of the necessary upgrades and repairs, and the cost for ONLY the necessary things. I am curious how much of this proposal is actually just a wish list that incompetent district leadership has allowed to balloon into a bloated, misguided attempt to secure an insane amount of money.

Also, please make it clear to the citizens of Lawrence that taxes are set to go DOWN after we finish paying off the last bond. Passing this bond will make taxes go back UP. The district's claim that taxes will not be affected is misleading at best (I would call it a blatant lie).

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Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

I have posted many angry comments about the misuse of funds from the last bond on this site. I wrote to the current school board members, and I received detailed and thoughtful responses. We voted the old members out of office because of our anger. We should now keep an open mind and support the people we elected.

  1. They have held input meetings around the city.
  2. They have started a series of articles in the paper.
  3. Their items are not as ambiguous as the ones in the last bond issue.

None of this was happening before. Make an effort to read the information provided, ask questions, and offer your input before deciding how you will vote.

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Katara 1 year, 9 months ago

This might assist in following your instructions. You can also click on each school to see what was recommended for each one.

http://www.usd497.org/BondIssuePlanning/

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

The Library and The T were put to the voters and approved.

Notice the 40 million tax $$$$$ field house is being protected by the city commission and kept out of the hands of the voters. What's up with that? No one knows how much this project will cost. What's up with that? In fact I see a tax dollar money hole.

This project will provide a lot of jobs for the community. Work that NEEDS to be accomplished instead of being further ignored. Neglect of taxpayer owned properties cost taxpayers big bucks and symbolizes reckless management of our tax dollars.

This is a smart choice. According to my conversations with BOE members none of this money can be diverted from the approved objectives. A matter of great concern. I say let's get on with it.

This is a smart investment in many neighborhoods which should enhance the value of each of these neighborhoods. Investing the money in the neighborhood schools prevents a potential 10% loss in property values. Who wants this? Who can afford a 10% loss in property value on top of the Republican home loan fiasco?

Lawrence parents have never approved the "larger school" concept for we know that is adverse to the most desired teaching/learning environment. This is excellent use of tax dollars.

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