Board duties

Community input is good, but advisory groups shouldn’t be used to perform duties that should be handled by paid staff or elected officials.

January 13, 2012


Lawrence public school board members and district administrators must have had some time on their hands as they waited for the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group to present its plan for the future of the district’s buildings.

While that group extends its reporting deadline with no sign of consensus, the school board this week agreed to form yet another advisory group, a five-member Finance Advisory Committee. This committee, to be appointed next month, will be tasked with helping board members and administrators better understand district budget challenges and opportunities.

School closings and budget problems are paramount issues that need to be addressed, and time is running short. This begs the question: Shouldn’t the school board and district administrators be leading efforts to face these challenges?

Community input and feedback are important and needed, but assigning advisory groups to study issues that ultimately must be decided by the board may not be the best way to get public input about problems that must be solved in a timely manner.

The school board has extended the deadline for the elementary school group to produce a recommendation until Feb. 15, but it seems unlikely the group will reach consensus on significant recommendations even with the extension.

Now the board wants to create a Financial Advisory Committee to review monthly bills and contracts, compare district budgets and spending with those in other districts and study other specific topics set by the board, then offer recommendations to the board. All of these tasks already are or could be handled by the district’s existing staff who are hired to study issues and make recommendations to the board. Why is the board seeking a group of volunteers to also perform those duties?

Even if a stellar group of volunteers is recruited to serve on the Finance Advisory Committee, it will take weeks for them just to get up to speed on financial issues facing the district. Even then, they won’t have as many insights as the district’s staff brings to the table. Budget decisions are looming and there is little chance a new advisory group can provide any significant guidance in time for this year’s budget deliberations.

The community elected a school board and employs a professional staff that has colleagues and state education leaders with whom to confer and resources to tap for any issue needing to be addressed. They must be the leaders who collect the community’s thoughts, wishes and needs and then make the sound, timely and unemotional decisions to direct the district’s future.

It’s time for Lawrence school board members and administrators to take back control and do their jobs.


Flap Doodle 2 years, 3 months ago

What the heck does Ohio have to do with this thread, merrill? Are you just randomly doing copy/paste from your favorite websites now?


Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

The Athens City Schools and many Ohio school districts are sorely in need of revenues. We see talented and dedicated teachers and teacher aides’ positions eliminated or threatened in Athens County. We read of the recommended closing a gem of a school and community, Chauncey Elementary.

There is a way that this school system and every school system in Ohio could save enough money to avoid such deep budget cuts. The new budgeting would take at least four years to fully institute, but would then save around $3 million every year for the Athens City Schools. The strategy: elect reform-minded legislators to the Ohio Assembly who would support single-payer health care in Ohio.

The present “sick care system” is dominated by for-profit insurance companies whose purpose is to keep the returns on investment high so that their shareholders and top executives can maximize their gains. The health of customers who directly or indirectly acquire insurance is secondary and too often unethical. Insurance companies have their place — but not in health care.

The thousands of Ohio people currently employed in health-care billing deserve legislated transitional monetary supports. With a fair payroll and income tax, we can reap enormous savings for schools and government while improving the physical and financial health of families.

The purpose of single-payer health care is to keep people healthy. It is possible to have such a system without any co-pays, deductibles or health-related bankruptcies.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. That's right without we taxpayers there could be no tax dollar spending. USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.

What makes we voting taxpayers the primary stakeholders in any new building/construction or rehab project? Each one of us spend thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in this community without which USD 497 would be nothing. Yet we are cast aside under the facade that none of this is any of our business.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

USD 497 taxpayers need to think of nurturing our teachers which has not been adequately addressed in some years. Some kind of a pay increase method may need to be a matter for consideration should the legislature open those doors.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

We don't need two tax increases. If any tax increase presents itself it should be applied to salaries. This demonstrates the exercise of good judgment and/or common sense… can we say prudent?

Don't forget USD has more than $20 million USD 497 tax dollars on the table for the ill conceived sports project. That $20 million couldn’t have been spent at a worst time. Knowing how to nurture tax dollars is an art.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Do community business people in fact make the best USD 497 choices for the BOE? Why would they be the best choices for a BOE?

A private business is in no way the same as a USD 497 BOE. There is this feeling inside me that says private business people would not spend their private money the reckless way some BOE members have blown OUR tax dollars.

Should the USD 497 BOE have blown $20,000,000 on the PLAY athletic venture without taxpayer approval? Absolutely NOT!

Should the USD 497 BOE have purchased unimproved real estate from a well known local real estate developer at $23,000 per acre without taxpayer approval? Absolutely NOT! And then approve this individual to sit on advisory boards pushing for the closing of schools only to build new ones???? what about this crap? Real estate people and some bankers have conflicts of interest.

Should the USD 497 BOE appoint advisory committees then tell them what their ultimate decision will be so come and make this decision? This is a facade. This does not provide for an open broad based discussion nor does it keep the doors open for the most fiscal responsible decision.

An example of the irresponsible chaos some " business leaders" left behind after more than 10 years = years and years of neglect = dereliction of duties: A $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? A perfect example of real estate conflicts of interest! A decision made and pushed by some local business leaders.


beaujackson 2 years, 3 months ago

Cato;s right - SB term should be 2 years.

Nativeson also correct - the "real" problem is: lack of leadership and "passing the buck" from both 497 admin. & SB.

497 admin. is (higlhly) paid to determine & solve school problems, and SB should approve (or not).


nativeson 2 years, 3 months ago

The last election cycle had school closings as a primary issue, yet the turnout was almost 40% less in 2011 versus four years prior in 2007. Local offices including the City Commission and School Board have more influence on our daily lives than state and federal offices. It is unfortunate that the community appears to be completely disengaged from this activity.

At this point any advisory board will be gathering data that is already known. This is not an issue of lack of information, it is an issue of lack of leadership. Regardless of where one is on the topic of school closings, the School Board owes the community a decision that will provide direction for the future. There are no perfect answers, but lack of an answer is wrong.


cato_the_elder 2 years, 3 months ago

"It’s time for Lawrence school board members and administrators to take back control and do their jobs."

True enough, but what's really needed is for genuinely capable and qualified people who understand how to handle money and budgets to run for the School Board instead of ceding control of it to people with little or no financial experience. That's how it's been in Lawrence for decades now, with those who have been successful in the business community invariably refusing to run for this important office despite being urged to do so.

What would be most helpful would be for the legislature to make school board terms two years instead of four, but the public education lobby, which knows that shortening the term would cause a greater number of otherwise busy people who have been successful in business or are recognized professionals outside of the public education industry to run, has always opposed it. The result is that too many people who have had essentially nothing else to do have held this office, in some cases making it a semi-permanent career.

If you are concerned about what your School Board is doing, and especially if you understand finance, then run for the Board next time. You owe it to your community to do so.


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