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Archive for Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editorial: Big bond

School district officials are looking at a bond issue that will require considerable explanation and salesmanship.

November 28, 2012

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During a recent visit to the Journal-World, Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll and school board President Vanessa Sanburn were quick to say that a board member’s earlier estimate that a proposed school bond issue could reach $100 million was too high.

Apparently, not by much.

At their meeting Monday night, school board members received preliminary estimates for the bond issue from the design firm Gould Evans, which has been meeting with individual school officials and patrons. The price tag that group came up with was $85.4 million to upgrade all 14 elementary schools and computer and audio-video technology throughout the district as well as to repair or replace mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment at all district schools. However, if the board goes ahead with other stated goals for the bond issue — including new facilities for career and technical education, replacing kitchen equipment, expanding Sunset Hill and Kennedy schools — the estimate for the bond issue goes up to a little more than $98 million.

That’s pretty close to $100 million. It will be a tall task for school district officials to sell such a large bond issue to local taxpayers, who are bound to have some questions.

The estimates, for instance, include $47.5 million to upgrade the six older elementary schools for which consolidation plans were discussed, adding 107,327 square feet to those buildings, including new gyms, cafeterias and classroom space. According to Sanburn, board members have decided not to pursue any consolidation efforts, but if that is the case, they need to explain clearly to voters why they made that decision. Why is it a better investment for the district and taxpayers to pour $47.5 million into older elementary schools rather than build a couple of new schools and consolidate students into new state-of-the art buildings?

District officials also have touted the fact that they could afford a bond issue of up to $110 million without a tax increase because the district is retiring old bonds. Perhaps the district won’t have to raise taxes to pay off bonds, but there is every possibility that the state will shift some of the responsibility for funding the district’s general fund to local taxpayers. If that happens, the district will either have to raise local taxes or cut its general fund budget, which is used for operating costs and salaries. Some board members reportedly expressed concern Monday about the image of seeking a large bond issue in the face of such general fund uncertainty. They are right to have that concern.

One other concern taxpayers might have is that it seems the consulting design firm would have a natural incentive to make this project as large as possible. The firm’s representatives basically went around to schools and asked what they needed. No wonder the total price tag is so high.

Lawrence has always been supportive of its public schools, but school officials seem headed toward a proposal that may deserve — and get — significant pushback from local taxpayers.

Comments

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

If what they want to accomplish does not increase taxes I say it could fly. The work that needs to be accomplished is 15 -20 years over due. Too many previous board members chose to apply negligence over respectfully maintaining property that belongs to taxpayers.

For nearly 15 years USD 497 taxpayers have been wanting to eliminate portable classrooms and make necessary additions to address issues of growth and simply maintain property that belongs to taxpayers. Instead $20 million USD 497 tax $$$$$ gets spent on phase one of PLAY which was reckless to say the least.

Thus far I like what improvements are being discussed and I deem them necessary. A great public education system is key to new economic growth which has been known for decades. A great public education system is far more important than any retail center or strip mall (KCMO metro is but minutes away).

When this family located to Lawrence the items at the top of our list was access to local food and a food co-op/organic choices, quality of public education, college campus and resources that could assist in our homeschooling efforts. The Lawrence Arts Center made a huge impression as well. It became known that Lawrence High was well endowed in the arts.

Of course there will still be those that would prefer to tear down perfectly good structures in order to spend millions building new less quality structures. However USD 497 taxpayers come out strongly against this approach every time it surfaces. Fiscal conservative thinking respects making extended use of the existing resources before our eyes ... thus we experience fiscal responsibility.

dinglesmith 2 years ago

How much of this will go to new athletic facilities? If that number is not guaranteed to be zero, this will be the first school bond issue I have voted against in my life. I won't be deceived twice.

aryastark1984 2 years ago

These are elementary schools. Unless you count playgrounds or gymnasiums, I don't think they actually have athletic facilities.

aryastark1984 2 years ago

"Why is it a better investment for the district and taxpayers to pour $47.5 million into older elementary schools rather than build a couple of new schools and consolidate students into new state-of-the art buildings?"

Umm, because no body could figure out where to put it. Because closing schools is disruptive to educational attainment. Because there are educational disadvantages for low SES kids in larger schools. . . .

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

" Why is it a better investment for the district and taxpayers to pour $47.5 million into older elementary schools rather than build a couple of new schools and consolidate students into new state-of-the art buildings?"

Children are not widgets. The educational rationale for building larger schools and bussing children is weak or nonexistent. Some logistical numbers game is not a good reason, and has nothing to do with education. Neighborhood schools are more supportive for children's growth and development. And, neighborhood schools benefit from the support of their neighborhoods. Does our editor remember that this school board was voted in because of the neighborhood school issue? The voters want neighborhood schools.

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

"One other concern taxpayers might have is that it seems the consulting design firm would have a natural incentive to make this project as large as possible. The firm’s representatives basically went around to schools and asked what they needed. No wonder the total price tag is so high."

Now that the dream plan has been presented, it's time to prioritize. My first priority would be upgrading electrical, plumbing, and other existing infrastructure. I wonder about the need for larger classrooms in the older schools. Did the teachers request larger classrooms, or did Gould Evans recommend this? It's difficult to schedule multipurpose rooms , so adding gyms is a good idea. Kids need more physical activity.

The school board has done a good job of communicating with the public, so far. Starting with a dream plan is pretty standard. Now, come the choices.

Katara 2 years ago

Updating the kitchen equipment would go a long way in serving healthier (and tastier) food for the kids' lunches. Perhaps with updated equipment, it would be easier to make meal items from scratch. This would save the district some money in the long run.

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

P.S. Why isn't anyone talking about a middle school on the southeast side?

kuguardgrl13 2 years ago

Do you mean South, or the building of a new school?

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

I mean out be O'Connel Road . . . Out east 23rd Street.

Mike Myers 2 years ago

Editor, if you had been paying attention you would know that the bond issue consultant team, in this case Gould Evans isn't the defacto architect to do the actual work on the buildings. That work is and will be put out to bid. Their fee for this work is fixed. Your suggestion that they would intentionally run up the bill is insulting to that profession and it is absurd. G/A should take you to task for that slanderous allegation.

Centerville 2 years ago

It would be helpful to list the bonds that will be retired (for real) and how much each will lower property taxes. Otherwise, it just reads like another 'trust me' scam.

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