Most of the local and national political attention is focused on the Nov. 6 general election, but local taxpayers also should be interested in the groundwork being laid by the Lawrence school district for an item that’s likely to appear on their ballots next spring: a bond issue to pay for improvements to district buildings.
At its Monday meeting, the Lawrence school board approved an agreement with Gould Evans Associates to do “pre-bond-issue election planning” for the district. This action grew out of a decision by board members last spring not to consider any consolidation of local elementary schools. Having put off certain elementary facility needs while consolidation was being considered, the district leadership now sees the need to move forward on work at the elementary schools. They also hope the bond issue will allow for some improvements they think are needed to help accommodate the addition of ninth-graders to the district’s two high schools and “the expansion of high school career and technical programs.”
To that end, the board agreed to pay the Gould Evans architecture firm $120,180 to come up with a plan. According to the board agenda, the firm’s task is “to develop a strategy that balances the many space, land use, academic and infrastructure needs of the Lawrence Public Schools …”
Presumably (maybe it would be better to say “hopefully), the firm also will consider the needs of local taxpayers, who will be asked to approve and financially support the bond issue. The board’s agenda also noted that the retirement of some current school bond issues offered the board “an opportunity to issue a significant amount in new bonds without increasing taxes.”
Neither the district administration nor the board is saying how much “a significant amount” may be, but there are reasons the district should be conservative in its planning and not be too quick to promise that a bond issue can be approved without increasing taxes. Even if the district’s bond commitments remain steady, it’s hard to say whether state funding for K-12 schools will do the same. During the last session of the Kansas Legislature, both the governor and some legislators floated plans that could push more responsibility for local school funding to local districts, which almost certainly would result in local property tax increases.
The planning has just started, but the ball certainly is rolling toward a bond question on next spring’s ballot. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.