Lawrence school board members on Monday directed district administrators to begin plans to likely present a bond issue mainly aimed at upgrading the district’s elementary schools to voters next spring.
“These schools have been neglected for, in some cases, over a decade,” board member Rick Ingram said. “(It’s exciting) not only to sort of fix the problems that we’ve let pile up but also to think about building something for the future.”
Superintendent Rick Doll said board members have asked the district to begin working on a plan that would begin focusing on east and central Lawrence elementary schools and then the needs at all other elementary schools. Next, it would narrow to any specific and more limited issues at the district’s middle and high schools, plus projects that focus on energy efficiency in buildings, technology, and career and technical education programs.
Administrators and some board members will now begin a search for an architectural firm to get into more specifics. There was no discussion Monday about the bond issue’s price tag. Doll said that would come as district staff members seek more information about building needs and present options to board members, likely over the summer.
As for the timing, district officials say because the district is retiring debt from the 2005 $54 million bond issue that mostly funded improvements at the secondary schools, a new bond issue would not make property-tax rates exceed their current levels.
“The real goal is to improve our facilities and to do that in a no-tax-increase environment,” Doll said.
The bond issue discussion comes on the heels of an April school board decision not to consolidate any of the six elementary schools in east and central Lawrence. Discussions on Monday touched on many issues at elementary schools, from getting rid of portable classrooms to improving kitchen space to resolving traffic issues at certain buildings.
According to a potential timeline provided to board members, the planning process would be completed in September, and board members in October would determine the specific date of the election. Board members indicated Monday they were targeting some time next spring. A City Commission and school board candidate general election is scheduled for April 9, 2013, meaning the district would not have to pay to add the bond issue question to the ballot.
But members also said having a bond issue question and board election on the same ballot could encourage “single-issue” candidates to run.
“Do we really want this to be a centerpiece issue of a board election? It will be if we do that,” said board member Shannon Kimball, whose current term runs through 2015.
A special bond issue election either 60 days before or after the April 9 election would cost the district an estimated $30,000 to $40,000, according to administrators.
Ingram said Monday’s discussion was a good starting point.
“I think we’ve narrowed it down to something that looks like it might be manageable,” he said. “Obviously there are still a lot of issues to figure out, but I think we are headed in the right direction."