Advertisement

Archive for Sunday, December 23, 2012

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

December 23, 2012

Advertisement

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

KU_cynic 1 year, 12 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.

Patricia Davis 1 year, 12 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.

Jonathan Fox 1 year, 12 months ago

Both high schools needed the facilities. I know that LHS had to spend over $10,000 for every single football game played at Haskell. There's a little more to it than getting angry parents off their back.

Shelley Bock 1 year, 12 months ago

The improved facilities were required if either high school was to continue playing sports. Opponents considered that Haskell Stadium was an unsafe surface. Soccer facilities were considered only marginally better.

Had improvements not been made, LHS and FSHS would have been kicked out of the Sunflower League. District teams would have become outcasts because of the known poor quality of the fields as teams would decline to play in Lawrence.

KiferGhost 1 year, 12 months ago

Well we certainly wouldn't want that, sure is more important than fixing schools. We can always close more schools to make sure sports remains the center of school activity.

Odd that stronger and heavier college football players use the Haskell field for their games.

I think from reading Hepburn's post that perhaps parents with disposable income start ponying it up along with the sports obsessed development community and showing a little community spirit by building and maintaining fields for the public. Of course that is an outdated idea now days as the wealthy enjoy taking more from those without.

John Hamm 1 year, 12 months ago

Man I was with you until the last sentence.

Shelley Bock 1 year, 11 months ago

High school athletics is part of the complete high school experience. Not everyone plays football and not everyone is male. This can be a valuable experience which enhances participation, well-being and cooperation of many students.

Yes, stronger and heavier college football players use Haskell, much to their risk. And, Haskell now has 2/3 fewer games every year.

High school sports isn't about the wealthy. Often times, those who lack the most find that high school sports keeps them in school and involved with academics. For them, it is a plus. Granted parents and the community sometimes go overboard with their support, but the real winners are the students themselves.

KiferGhost 1 year, 11 months ago

Athletics in school use to be gym and fun games between local towns of the same size. What we have now is well in excess of what was once healthy. When money is taken from maintaining the part of school where the real work is done in favor of sports then something is screwed up.

The nonsense about Haskell is just that, nonsense. If the point of sports is to keep kids active then we should have told whatever league was too good to use our facilities to go ahead and drop Lawrence and find counties to play that aren't in the top percentage of wealth in the country.

You know, I played football in high school and our field wasn't any different than the one at Haskell, probably worse, and honestly can't remember an injury that came from the field. Sounds to me more like parents who want to make sure their kids gets a scholarship (playing sports) and not risking a twisted ankle instead of appreciating sports for the health benefits of being active. This Haskell field is dangerous nonsense needs some facts behind us. List all the injuries that happened simply because of the field. You do know football has an inherit risk of injury, right? As do most sports. It is this neurotic fear that keeps so many kids from doing anything now days including simply walking to school (sure that is old school to you also).

Music does the same thing to keep kids involved in school as does theater and art activities but there is only one that gets millions of dollars for not just adequate fields but fields that would impress small colleges. KU now has two additional football fields that were never needed, perhaps a deal could have been worked out with them. Sports has gone way over the top in our society and is way beyond being a healthy part of education system and our society in general. Just look at a KU game where sure there are a few people running around on the field but there are 1000's stuffing their faces with hot dogs and getting drunk out in the parking lot.

Shelley Bock 1 year, 11 months ago

The Sunflower League gave an ultimatum to Lawrence, Free State and Leavenworth high schools to improve their fields or be booted from the league. There was a playoff game where Shawnee Mission West implored KSHSAA to move the game with LHS to another field. That did not occur.

I have been on the Haskell field in an official capacity. I have also been on the fields that served for soccer and there were specific injuries that were caused by the field. I'm glad that you survived you football experience, but that doesn't mean that years later others should suffer as well.

Knowing this school district, the athletic improvements will be around for a long time and be used by many students. I agree, a central sports complex would have made sense. But, where? YSI to the Southwest wouldn't have been used because of inadequate access. Other land would have upped the cost dramatically.

Sports can have a negative impact. There are certainly ways that it has damaged society. Most parents realize that their kids will have a greater chance of a college scholarship based on academics than on playing skill. Most students keep playing sports in high school because they enjoy the game, not because they see scholarships in their future. What they do gain is the experience of team work and the comradery. I think the investment is appropriate.

KiferGhost 1 year, 11 months ago

I've seen too many high school sports stars that end up fat couch potatoes and we already know from the news that in sports like football they end up worse. Problem is it is hard to play a team sport when older and kids would be better off in cross country or cycling, something they can do a lifetime.

The solution where was simply to have stayed the course. There was no surviving my experience, what was there to survive other than imaginary problems by those who overlook the inherit risk in the sport itself. Don't be so silly trying to justify millions of dollars on two sports empires because kids might get hurt because of the field.

patkindle 1 year, 12 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,

lunacydetector 1 year, 12 months ago

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

anotherview 1 year, 12 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.

JackMcKee 1 year, 12 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.

repaste 1 year, 12 months ago

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

jafs 1 year, 12 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.

Water 1 year, 12 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.

jhawk1998 1 year, 12 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.

irvan moore 1 year, 12 months ago

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

NotRelated 1 year, 12 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.

Bigdog66046 1 year, 12 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!!!!

GMom05 1 year, 12 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.

aRobot 1 year, 11 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?

KiferGhost 1 year, 11 months ago

Technology is just a desperate way of keeping our false economy going. There are schools for the silicon valley elite that don't use technology at all. They must understand something that the dimwits in Lawrence and the sheep in the education system don't.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.