First Bell: School board taking applications for Finance Advisory Committee; Prairie Park Nature Center offers trips for home-schoolers

Financial professionals, educators and others with detailed knowledge and proficiency regarding budgets, public finance and other monetary matters related to public education now have an opportunity to share their expertise with leaders of the Lawrence school district.

For free.

“Obviously, like yourselves, there is no compensation, so that’s a real benefit (and) incentive,” confirmed Kyle Hayden, chief operations officer for the Lawrence school district, drawing laughs as he outlined the allure of the new Finance Advisory Committee to members of the Lawrence school board this week.

Five service-minded experts are being sought to comprise the committee, a group that will be charged with monitoring internal and external financial issues and trends facing the district. Members will be expected to provide advice to board members, Superintendent Rick Doll and his staff, and to share financial information with the community.

The group will meet to review monthly bills and contracts, compare district budgets and spending with those of other districts, and to otherwise study specific topics determined by the board and make recommendations regarding financial issues and matters as directed.

There’s certainly plenty going on. Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing a new system for financing K-12 education, a district advisory group is studying ways to consolidate elementary schools, and the district is searching for ways to add full-day kindergarten in four remaining schools, to name a few.

Board members intend to assemble a committee whose members “collectively possess the expertise and experience in accounting, auditing and/or financial reporting needed to understand and address financial issues within the school district and have professional training in these areas,” according to the committee’s written guidelines.

“We want to establish a committee of folks who come from various backgrounds but with some finance experience or expertise — whether it be in accounting, or auditing (or) financial reporting,” Hayden said.

Doll said that his staff would like to move quickly to form the committee. He intends to forward names of potential members to the board for possible appointment within a month.

“It would be really nice to have a nice balance of people,” Doll said. “We certainly want the financial background but certainly some people from KU, some people from other financial institutions in the community. There would just be a lot of people out there that … could really, really help us, and getting a nice balance of those people on will be something that I will ask you to consider when all of the names come back.”

Plans for the committee took shape last year, as board members assembled goals for the coming academic year. Rick Ingram, a Kansas University professor of psychology, called for creation of such a committee as he campaigned for office last year. Fellow board members Keith Diaz Moore and Randy Masten, also elected in April, likewise pushed for such a committee to help the district — and the public — make sense of complex budgetary matters that affect how students are educated, teachers are paid and projects are planned, chosen and financed.

“I think this is a really important step for us, in transparency,” Ingram said, as board members agreed Monday night to establish the committee. “I think this is a really good idea.”

Added Masten: “Our big thing is their input. If they see something irregular, something out of the ordinary, something needs comment or something that they think we can do better, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Interested? Check out the guidelines and the application form, available on the main page of the district’s website,


Students learning at home can take their education outside, through Winter Home School Science Field Trips at the Prairie Park Nature Center.

The center, 2730 Harper St., is offering several trips for students in home schools. They are set for 10 a.m. to noon on four Wednesdays:

• Jan. 18: Winter Eagles in Kansas.

• Feb. 1: Kansas Natural Symbols.

• Feb. 22: Adaptation to Winter Survival.

• March 7: Remarkable Animal Senses.

The field trips, offered through Lawrence Parks and Recreation, are available to students 6 to 12 years old, and students should be prepared to go outside. The fee is $10 per student, per trip.

For more information, or to register, contact the center at 832-7980.