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Archive for Sunday, December 23, 2012

For some Lawrence voters, 2005 bond issue still casts cloud of suspicion

December 23, 2012

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Lawrence school officials acknowledge one hurdle they'll need to overcome in convincing voters to support a proposed $92.5 million bond issue: the perception held by many in the community that the last time the district issued bonds, at least some of the funds were not used for their intended purpose.

Specifically, critics of the school district argue that some of the money was used to improve football fields and other outdoor athletic facilities when the public was told the bonds were for classrooms and building improvements.

Superintendent Rick Doll and other district officials say those arguments are inaccurate. And while Doll was not superintendent at the time - in fact, the entire school board and much of the district's upper managers have changed since that 2005 bond issue - Doll says the records indicate a different story.

In April 2005, voters in the district approved a $54.1 million bond issue to pay for additions and improvements at junior high and high schools; to demolish the old South Junior High School and replace it with a new building adjacent to Broken Arrow Elementary; to expand and renovate Broken Arrow; and to "make all other necessary and related improvements."

A second bond issue that voters approved on the same ballot authorized $8.9 million for technology upgrades throughout the district.

According to Doll, the final construction costs on all the high schools and junior highs came in less than expected, and the district found itself with unspent bond money left over. And so, in 2008, the school board decided to spend the remaining bond funds - combined with capital improvements money as well as private donations - to build some new athletic facilities and upgrade existing ones.

Bond-related funds accounted for about $5 million of the total $16 million spent on the projects, Doll said. Of that, he said, only $1.4 million came from unspent bond funds. About $3.6 million came from interest the district had earned on the deposit of those funds. The rest was financed through lease-purchase agreements.

"There wasn't anything that was not done with the 2005 bond to save this money," Doll said. "I mean, it wasn't like they decided, oh we're not going to do something so we can save money. What happens, typically, is that you invest the dollars so you earn a little interest and things come in under budget. It's not unusual at all to have some money left at the end of a bond issue."

School officials say that while athletic facilities may not have been discussed in the pre-bond planning meetings, those facilities are part of the high school campuses and, therefore, fit within the scope of the bond proposal.

At the time, neither Lawrence High School nor Free State High School had an outdoor sports facility. Doll said Lawrence High had traditionally rented time on the field of Haskell Indian Nations University; Free State played home games on a number of different fields, including Haskell's stadium and Memorial Stadium at Kansas University.

Even that explanation has left some critics of the school district unsatisfied. Some have argued that the excess money could have been used to fix up elementary schools, a major focus of the upcoming bond election. Others have suggested the money could have been used to repay part of the bond issue and reduce the district's debt load.

District officials say that first option was not legally possible because of the way the bond proposal was worded on the ballot. That language specifically limited the use of funds to improving high schools, junior highs and one elementary school.

Former school board member Craig Grant, who did serve on the board in 2008, recalled that the decision generated no public controversy at the time.

"I don't remember that we heard any negative comments from anybody," Grant said this week. "I don't remember any public comments made by anyone who said don't use these proceeds in that way."

But current school board president Vanessa Sanburn said the perception that previous bond proceeds were misdirected remains an issue with some voters.

"Occasionally I will hear comments from the public about their dissatisfaction with some of the funds from the 2005 bond being used to improve high school athletic facilities," Sanburn said. "And, I truly understand their frustration. I was not on the board during that time, nor were any of the current board members. Especially considering all of the deferred needs at many of the elementary facilities that existed at that time and do still today, I would have been reluctant to vote on athletic improvements had I been a member of the board at the time the decision was made to enhance athletic facilities. I do, however, understand that restrictions existed that wouldn't have allowed the funds to be used at elementary schools."

Sanburn said if voters approve the upcoming bond proposal and the same situation occurs where money is left over at the end of construction, she would urge the board to hold community discussions to decide how to use those excess funds.

Comments

aRobot 1 year, 3 months ago

Here's a little story about spending oversight at USD497. I have a friend who works in the technology department there, and here is what they told me:

A few years ago when projectors were being installed in every classroom at USD497 (using money from a technology BOND) there was a known defect with some of the bulbs that came in the projectors. It was worked out with the projector manufacturer that many of the bulbs would be replaced, free of charge, once they burned out. The tech department leadership looked at this and saw an opportunity to pump up one of the department's accounts by CHARGING THE SCHOOLS FOR THE BULBS WHICH WERE REALLY BEING REPLACED FOR FREE. No one told the schools this was going on.

Now, at the end of this particular fiscal year the tech department found itself with thousands and thousands of dollars left over in this account, and since it was a use-it-or-lose-it account the money had to be spent. There was an impromptu meeting held which was filled with smiles and twinkling eyes. "Let's buy ourselves new iPads!!!" said the department higher-ups.

At this point a low level employee stood up and said "The schools are operating on crippled budgets right now. If we have this money left over, and some of it came from the schools themselves, then why don't we stock up on equipment that we know the schools need. We could distribute this equipment equally across the district so that schools could then use their money for other necessities."

This altruistic idea was immediately shot down by the IT department leadership, and by the end of the week there were high level tech department employees and several district administrators "testing" brand new iPads by playing games, watching movies, and occasionally checking emails. This story is fairly well known in the school district and can be verified by numerous people.

There has been no change in IT department leadership since this incident took place. Taxpayer money was spent recklessly and foolishly, and this happened while school budgets were operating at a bare minimum.

Shifting (or stealing) funds from schools and then spending the money in a way that has no benefit for the schools is completely unacceptable.

No more money for technology until there is strong, competent leadership in place. Anyone who condones nickel-and-diming schools in order to buy themselves and their cronies fancy toys is not fit for the job.

Oversight. Where is it?

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GMom05 1 year, 3 months ago

What happened with the last bond issue is at least a warning to the board and the district that they should not play games and be anything less than totally transparent with us. As I understand the bond issue will go for four things. 1) Making the repairs to the elementary buildings that had their maintenance deferred all these years, 2) Security improvements such as making entryways that funnel through the front office at each school, 3) Improving wiring and other necessary technology improvements to bring all the buildings into the 21st century, and 4) New construction to elementary buildings to accommodate those that are now over-crowded. Um, excuse me, what?!?!? So, several of our schools are over crowded now and we need to add more classrooms. Didn't we just close a school? Don't we still own three former elementary school buildings in this district? Why in the world would I want you to spend my tax dollars on new classroom construction?!?!? Vote NO on the new bond issue. If they take out all references to new construction in the elementary buildings, I can get on board, but not until they do.

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Stacy Napier 1 year, 3 months ago

It really just boils down to they took money that was voted for something and used if for something else. They money should have been used to pay down the bond and then lower everyone's taxes even if just a little.

We are dealing with the same issue in Baldwin School district. They refuse to use the extra money to pay down the bond and want to spend it. We currently have two bonds we are paying for on top of the normal mill. The two bonds cost me about $1500 a year.

I hope you all send a clear message that they don't need to have fancy buildings to teach children. You just need good teachers.

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Bigdog66046 1 year, 3 months ago

WOW even though they say we are not the same school board or staff, they defend what they did and see nothing wrong. This tells me they are the SAME TYPE of board who does what they want and it doesn't matter what is really good for the kids. I love the "didn't hear any bad comments." That's east, you can't hear when you don't listen!! They are already making plans on what they can do with "extra" money from this bond. Just let it slip with the comment on the interest. This will be a easy decision. VOTE NO!!!!

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NotRelated 1 year, 3 months ago

Will you please show us how ALL the money was spent for technology last time?

It was wasted before so we should not vote to give them more until they overhaul the entire IT department. Administrators and staff got too many perks to the detriment of the schools. This is just another shot for them to stock up on personal equipment.

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irvan moore 1 year, 3 months ago

i don't understand why we couldn't have had one stadium/complex and share it instead of building two

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jhawk1998 1 year, 3 months ago

Time to say no until the leadership that failed to make appropriate infrastructure planning and allocation on the last bond issue are retired. How could anyone find it more prudent to allocate those bond funds to athletic facilities when the district was still using portable classrooms? Reminds me of a saying "Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency to me". I am as in favor of education as the next guy but enough is enough. I can't afford more of this and neither can my neighbors. How about some out-of-the box thinking like having administrators work from home and convert administration office space into classrooms? Yes to educating our kids. No to an additional bond issue.

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Water 1 year, 3 months ago

Visit link to see how much money football is costing society.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/sports/08stadium.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I wish when journalist's mention bonds in their articles, they would also post the interest rate the bond is paying. Also, I don't understand how the bond money's mentioned in this article were invested to earn interest which was then used to purchase things instead of paying the holder of the bond. This result is in the tax payer paying the full brunt of the interest on the bond instead of just part of it.
There is a similar philosophy with State and Federal Grant money. A government entity will write a grant proposal for say $500,000 and win the grant money. They find near the end of the grant period, they only spent $470,000 so they commense to frantically purchase (albeit within grant guidelines) $30,000 worth of desks, subscriptions and wall clocks etc., they don't need.

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jafs 1 year, 3 months ago

A couple of possibilities:

  1. Use the excess money to pay down the debt.
  2. Save it for future needs of the same sort.
  3. Invest it, and earn interest on it.

By the way, who buys these bonds? Anybody know?

Also, I share the concern about using other funds as well, since we'll all eventually pay for them one way or another.

2

repaste 1 year, 3 months ago

Remember who the builder who made millions off the Athletic Fields was?

1

JackMcKee 1 year, 3 months ago

Bet if you look it's the same names behind the M-T and the library parking garage. They have this fleecing down to a science.

4

anotherview 1 year, 3 months ago

The part of amount of money spent on the football field and other sports facilities that bothers me the most is "the rest was financed through lease-purchase agreements" These lease payments are being paid out of the Capital Outlay Fund. This means that taxes will need to be assessed for years to come to pay for these facilities. This money could have used to pay for school building improvements.

3

lunacydetector 1 year, 4 months ago

in 7 years they'll be whining for even more money....the schools NEVER have enough, ever.

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patkindle 1 year, 4 months ago

the majority of your property taxes already go to usd497.................. it is all about the kids and it is only pennies a day, so it must me ok................... the more you give them, the more they spend, regardless of who the leader is. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,so just suck it up and open your check book,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, youi really have no one to blame but yourself,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, welcome to lawrence ks,

1

toe 1 year, 4 months ago

Paying off the debt early with using the unspent funds and reducing total cost to the district over the life of the bond would never occur to a government entity. The unspent money is fun money. The old government use it or lose it is alive and well. The new issue will be the same. Bet that it will find its way into the new rec center.

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oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 4 months ago

When a district hauls to the recycle center perfectly good desks and chairs that someone could use, NO way does 497 deserve for money.AND paid two workers AND got something $68. for the first load. How come the JW doesn't track the workers for a day and other staff? Dolph will endorse the bond issue.

1

Patricia Davis 1 year, 4 months ago

The school board could not tolerate the onslaught of angry LHS parents who felt Free State had better facilities. The school board took the chicken way out, diverted funds and built LHS athletic facilities (too quickly, poorly, will never be right) to get the angry parents off their back. The curse is , of course, that LHS has never played well upon these ill gotten facilities. Karma is slow moving sometimes, but always trumps stupid.

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KU_cynic 1 year, 4 months ago

"Bond-related funds accounted for about $5 million of the total $16 million spent on the projects, Doll said. Of that, he said, only $1.4 million came from unspent bond funds. About $3.6 million came from interest the district had earned on the deposit of those funds."

Doesn't make sense. There's no way that $1.4 million in unspent bond funds could generate $3.6 million in interest in a short time. Instead, it seems more likely that as TOTAL bond funds were spent down, yet unspent funds generated interest of that magnitude.

Thus, the issue remains: just prior to the economic downturn and our most recent divisive battle over whether or not to close and consolidate elementary schools USD 497 elected leaders and bureaucrats jointly decided to "blow" several million dollars in funds on hand and unused debt capacity on flashy athletic facilities that do little to help our very average Lawrence school-age population prepare for the rigors of 21st century economic competition.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Do I think our kids and teachers deserve better facilities and better technology? Yes. Do I trust the USD 497 bureaucrats and elected officials to allocate funds wisely? No way.

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