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Archive for Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lawrence school board’s goals outlined for bond issue

September 26, 2012

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District debt ( .PDF )

Paying for it

Kyle Hayden, assistant superintendent for operations and business, and Kathy Johnson, director of finance, explained the district’s financial situation in a recent interview, saying they support the board members’ assertion that a bond issue can go forward without raising taxes.

• $55,555,000: The total debt the district will have at the end of this year. That’s about 6 percent of the total valuation, and districts can have up to 14 percent of total valuation in debt, according to state law.

• $136,593,411: The total “allowed” debt — 14 percent of value. Some districts have gotten state go-ahead to have more than the cap. Eudora has more than 100 percent — its debt is bigger than its value.

• 58.234 mills: The school levy as it stands now. It puts the district in about the middle of the state ranking; Gardner-Edgerton has the highest with 82.6 and Liberal the lowest with 40.5. Board members have said that they hope to pass a bond issue that doesn’t raise the school district mill levy, so property taxes would stay the same.

• $4,784: The amount of debt the Lawrence district has per student.

The Lawrence school board is working on a bond issue, set to go to public vote in April. Committees are still formulating details of what it will entail — and how much it will cost — but three overall goals have emerged.

That is, three goals for what they want in the bond issue; a fourth clear goal is how they want to get it passed: without raising taxes.

In open meetings and interviews, board members and district administration have outlined three basic goals for what they’d like to see:

• “Revamping” elementary schools

• Improving technology throughout the district

• Bolstering career education for high schoolers

The emphasis in planning so far is on the elementary schools, which will form the bulk of the cost and work of the issue.

“The main focus is getting our elementary schools to an adequate — even exceptional — level for 21st century learning,” Superintendant Rick Doll said.

The board hired architecture firm Gould Evans last month to begin the planning process by assessing needs, especially in the “east-central” elementary schools, many of which were targeted in the failed consolidation talks last year.

“The reality is that the community has made it clear that they want all schools open,” board member Bob Byers said. “Now it’s time for the community to take the next step: If they’re open, we need to fix them up.”

Not all schools will need major renovations, board members say, but they’ll all be considered for “creating collaborative community learning spaces” and evaluating efficiencies of mechanical systems. Put another way, the old schools need significant upgrades, but even the newer schools could use fresh ideas for how to use their space, and more energy-efficient infrastructure saves money all around.

“We want to rectify disparity,” said board member Keith Diaz Moore, who is on the committee that hired Gould Evans.

Doll has said that the bond would allow the district to get rid of mobile classrooms and improve ADA compliance in Cordley School. Other building-related goals brought up by those involved include:

• Adequately sized libraries for all schools.

• Removing “cafe-gym-a-toriums,” as Diaz Moore put it, or having designated space for designated activities.

Other priorities

Elementary school building improvements appear to be the biggest priority in the bond issue talks, but improving technology systemwide goes hand-in-hand, board members said. Older elementary schools don’t have the wiring to support large computer labs or wireless needs.

Kansas software company Alexander Open Systems is working with the bond issue committees and in the midst of an audit to come up with ideas of how best to equip the schools when it comes to technology.

Many of those details haven’t been decided or released yet, but those involved have made it clear that upgrades to the district’s technological capacity will be part of the plan. They say this addresses the “excellence and equity” sections of the yearly goals.

Board member Shannon Kimball said that the planning process would also provide information about capital planning for the long-term, regardless of passage of a bond issue now.

Another issue is career education in the two high schools and the idea to have a centrally located building for those classes, board president Vanessa Sanburn said.

How much it will cost

Of those members interviewed, only Diaz Moore gave an estimate, which he said was rough: $90 million to $100 million. By state statute, a school district can have up to 14 percent of its assessed valuation in debt.

The Lawrence district’s debt is 5.69 percent of its valuation for the 2012-13 year. By comparison, Topeka had 5.51 percent debt last year and Manhattan had 19 percent.

Board member Rick Ingram said he thought the bond issue “could be done with a decrease in property tax” because the district is paying off many debts this year. But most board members say that the bond proposal will include a flat mill levy — no more or less taxes than those assessed this year.

“We’re doing our best to be responsible stewards of their money,” Kimball said about taxpayers.

Timeline

At the board meeting Monday, Doll said Gould Evans would begin giving weekly reports of the planning process.

They’re continuing to interview teachers and staff, he said, and “community engagement,” or holding open meetings about proposals, will begin next month.

The board and staff have set the end of the calendar year as their deadline for a refined plan, with January and April being their campaign season to get support before an election.

If it were to pass in April, it would affect schools beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Challenges

The last bond election was in April 2005, and several board members acknowledged that frustration with its results would be a challenge in getting this bond issue passed.

“People feel they didn’t get what they thought they voted for,” Ingram said, “but none of the current board voted to do that, and we’re aware that we need to be transparent; it’s about regaining trust.”

They say they’re aware of financial concern, too. If the bond issue doesn’t pass, the mill levy — and thus, property taxes — would almost certainly go down.

But supporters of the bond say that elementary school improvements are needed, and this year is the time to make them.

“We have to invest in our future,” Doll said. “We can do better for these kids.”

Comments

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

I too, will vote no until the board figures out how to quit throwing good money after bad.

withchild 2 years, 2 months ago

Maybe the current board was not there when decisions were made to build the sports complexes and close Wakarusa, but Doll was. Why should anyone ever believe what he says? Once he gets the bond money, the priorities will shift and local elementary schools will close.

kuguardgrl13 2 years, 2 months ago

I wasn't in Lawrence in 2005, but I have stepped foot in some of the elementary schools recently. Some of them are in desperate need for repair. You pushed to keep them open. Vote to make them fit for students! This has nothing to do with athletic facilities or the city. This is about providing our youth with quality facilities to promote a strong learning environment. It could probably be done without a bond, but it would be a long drawn out process, and the kids would have to go without things like playgrounds, gyms, and libraries. I know because my elementary school was remodeled starting in first grade and still had things to be finished when I left after 5th grade. And that was a building from the 60s in decent condition being upgraded in the 90s. Some of out schools are older than that and have gone longer without necessary repairs. Say what you will about stadiums and old school boards. I will vote yes to give our kids the buildings they deserve.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

I generally agree.

But, the bond issue that was passed was for "capital improvements", which should have covered the things you mention. And, yet, they managed to spend about $2 million of that on athletic fields.

Thus the bad taste in my mouth.

Capital improvements meant to me, and many other people, repairing and upgrading buildings, classrooms, etc. not new athletic fields.

I'll be looking very carefully at the wording of this bond, and asking questions to make sure it will be used for what it's being presented as, before voting for it. Also, although facilities are important, what happens inside those facilities is more important from my perspective.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

This is not a political issue. The community has serious trust issues with USD 497. When we vote for bond issues, the money is not spent as intended. The last bond issue passed was was a blatant misuse of funds. I have a always voted for bond issues, but I have a hard time trusting that the money will be spent as intended after the last round.

I don't know where to begin.

  • Broken Arrow now has the smallest playground. Before its renovation, it had a very large playground.
  • South Middle School has several design and construction faults.
  • The other grade schools were not improved. We heard about leaky roofs after the sports complexes were built.
  • We did not approve a bond issue for the sports complexes. The funding was skimmed off the bond for two new schools and repairs/renovations to other schools.
  • The LHS sports complex seriously compromised the adjacent homes.
  • Broken Arrow/South Middle School seriously compromised the adjacent homes.

Voters are not sure how the money will be spent. If the last bond issue addressed improving elementary schools, how do voters know that will happen this time?

Patricia Davis 2 years, 2 months ago

Doll and his tribe have proven that can't be trusted with our resources. I will be voting NO for every school bond issue. His leadership has earned our contempt. And then they fly up the flagpole concern about students. Insult to injury. Their greatest concern was athletics nor education. They created this "challenge."

Flap Doodle 2 years, 2 months ago

Josh is a lousy, rotten spammer posting lousy, rotten spam.

patkindle 2 years, 2 months ago

the school administrators realize they already get the lions share of your property taxes. here are the 3 goals. 1 . we want more money 2, we want more money 3 we want more money they understand the voters will fold on this like they do on every thing else, because this is "all about the kids" so just close your mouth and open your wallet

irvan moore 2 years, 2 months ago

did you notice they want to have an vote in april, not have it on the ballots when there is an election that will draw voters to the polls

skimballku 2 years, 2 months ago

This WILL be on the ballot during a regularly scheduled election - local elections for city commissioners and three school board members will take place in April 2013. The district actually saves money by having the bond issue on the ballot at that time.

Catalano 2 years, 2 months ago

You don't know much about local elections, do you?

Dan Alexander 2 years, 2 months ago

If technology couldn't put adequate wiring and wireless in the schools over the last decade with the millions that have been spent why would we believe they are capable of doing it now? You can't waste this much and ask for more. Get the cronies out of the ESDC and then it might be worthwhile to try upgrades.

buffalo63 2 years, 2 months ago

Before I would vote for the bond, they would have to prove to me that it would be spent on exactly what they propose and not "save" the 2 million on South by cutting corners. Then push through items, (locker rooms at LHS, upgrades at Central) each time saying they would use that 2 million, then actually spending it on the athletic fields.

EJ Mulligan 2 years, 2 months ago

The children who attend these schools (and who will in decades to come) have done nothing political here, they are just trying to get the education they deserve. It is not right to punish young children for the actions of a few (incompetent) politicians and administrators.

The facts are that the elementary buildings need repairs. Most are 60+ years old. The kids just want to learn in a safe, comfortable place.

Please look at the plans with the children of today and tomorrow in mind before you decide your vote, instead of impulsively voting "no" out of spite for certain adults.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

Yea.. it if for the children. Does not pass the smell test. They use the same argument in scouting.

What we have here is the windfall of money they found a few months ago went into teacher salaries. They cut funding a couple of years ago for the bus system, so those students that live within 2.5 miles of the school get to walk, while we bus able bodied men to and from on the empT. Only those with kids actually care about the kids. No one in the administration does.

KSManimal 2 years, 2 months ago

"What we have here is the windfall of money they found a few months ago went into teacher salaries."

The "windfall" you speak of was $180,000. Divided by 900 teachers amounts to $200/year - about $16.67 per month per teacher.

The fact that the "windfall" = peanuts is less important than the fact that it's a red herring you've tossed. That money comes from the general fund, which comes from state funding and to a lesser extent ongoing local revenue.

Nowhere in the general fund budget are there large sums of money for building improvements, renovations, and such. Those kinds of expenses must be paid for with bond issues.

Your point about the school bus system is also a red herring. Transportation also comes from the general fund and is an ongoing expense. Since the state cut funding back to 1990's levels; cuts had to come from someplace. State law requires districts to provide bus transportation for kids who live more than 2.5 miles from school. Lawrence used to provide transportation for anyone who wanted it....but when cuts have to be made, things get whittled back to the bare requirements of the law. (And there is no logic at all in mentioning the T: since that is a City of Lawrence system, not a USD 497 system).

If you don't like it that districts have to make cuts, then stop voting for politicians who cut school funding. It's really that simple.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

Yea.. it is more than simple, until the education system is performanced based, the unions are abolished, and tenure is a thing of the past, there is no incentive for anything to get better.

The unions hold the taxpayers hostage every year under the banner of helping the kids.

I have been around government at the upper levels for many years. I fully understand how funding is allocated and requested, the games that are played in the HR shop, how to hide money by allocating it till next years funding is requested and recieved. Then recending that allocation. Burning up year end funds, BS trips for those in the "Club". Yes... it is a big game, using our children as the pawns while the unions protect its members, many of which, are otherwise unemployable.

So... I guess it could be said that it is not at all for the kids...it is only for the survival of the union.

patgilbey1 2 years, 2 months ago

I am still bitter about the community that was destroyed at Waky Valley. For all you city folks that think you understand....forget it. You never will.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on perverted budgetary constraints has skewed the true emphasis on education. Yes, it takes financial frugality and budgetary constraint to run an effecient school district. Yet, there is that semi-lucid acknowlegement that another part of our education consists of the following: altruism friendship community education imagination Hard to put a dollar sign on those, but believe you me, these are just a few of the elements of strong, healthy communities. How many folks that are responding to this article have read books to 2nd graders, go on field trips, give teachers items they need for school, and quite frankly have fun with the kids? There is little truth out there in the world, but I can guarantee you this: I get about 10 minutes of truth every day being with the kids.
I do not feel the leadership of USD 497 truly wants to reach a goal of a strong, healthy, education system.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

I have always heard good things about the Wakarusa school. I would support opening it up again. In fact, I would like to hear the school board set a policy that schools are integral parts of neighborhoods. That concept strengthens the growth and development of children and creates a strong connection between the schools and the neighborhood. The Wakarusa school is a good example. Broken Arrow is another.

aRobot 2 years, 2 months ago

Please show us the receipt for the last Technology Bond. I'm pretty sure some of that money was diverted to the athletic fields. No more money until the previous bonds can be fully accounted for.

Also, what are the credentials of the Technology Director? I know that Doll and his sidekicks have no tech background so I'm assuming the tech director is well qualified to manage a multi-million dollar pile of cash. Who is the Technology Director, what are their credentials, and what experience do they have overseeing a large scale investment such as the one being proposed?

Budgets_Smudgets 2 years, 2 months ago

I would be normally be inclined to support a school bond issue, regardless of the "closing schools" discussion. However this issue has been in the air for the last 18-24 months, and I am highly offended that the Board has not timed this issue and vote to occur at the November Presidential election. I will show up in April and vote NO because of this.

And I blame the board, not the superintendent. They are grown-ups

commuter 2 years, 2 months ago

For everyone blaming the 2005 bond issue on Dr. Doll, he wasn't here then... He was selected to succeed Randy Weseman in March 2009.

So Randy Weseman created this problem & should be held accountable.

What do the spend the capital money they get every year on outside of the bond issue? Maybe the person to go is the person in charge of facilities? He has been here for years.

Dan Alexander 2 years, 2 months ago

"What do the spend the capital money they get every year on outside of the bond issue? Maybe the person to go is the person in charge of facilities? He has been here for years." -Who do you think that is?

aRobot 2 years, 2 months ago

Oh, ok. You're suggesting that since Weseman is gone we shouldn't be able to hold anyone accountable for how the 2005 bond was spent. Weseman didn't take the money with him when he left. Much of the 2005 bond money has been spent on Doll's watch.

I think people just want accountability. I want to know how the previous bond money was spent before handing the school district another HUGE pile of cash. If you send me to the store with a $100 bill and I return with $60 worth of goods and no change and no receipt would you send me shopping again?

Glo 2 years, 2 months ago

That "facilities person" of whom you speak, was the general contractor for the sports facilities and made error after error and changed plans as he went along. He continues with the district making a $100,000 salary after wasting 10's of thousands of dollars on various plans. Let's a least see if they can find a more competent general contractor and hold them accountable for errors!

ku4me2 2 years, 2 months ago

The superintendt is the leader of USD 497 and so the buck stops with him. He is not honest with parents or staff. He bullies administration, staff and parents and uses scare tactics to attempt to get what he wants. Shame on the board that hired him and continues his employment. The children in Lawrence deserve better than that. He has driven out adminstrators, staff and families with his arrogance and back door dealings. He closed an amazing school, Wakarusa Valley, and then doesn't support the schools where those students were forced to attend. Until he goes, I think we should all vote NO!

aRobot 2 years, 2 months ago

Anyone notice that USD497 hired AOS to "audit" the school district's technology department, and AOS has recommended that we need to spend a bunch of money?

Maybe they'll recommend some more $400 phones that include a bunch of features that will NEVER be used in a school district. You know, more phones that are just like the ones in EVERY classroom, office, and staff room right now, but the new ones could have color screens and video animations! Seriously, if you want a perfect example of unchecked excessive spending just look at the phones purchased with the last bond and ask "Why in the world did a public school district need to purchase some super-expensive, feature-rich phone for every classroom when the only function that it really needed to perform was making phone calls?" I'm guessing those were purchased through AOS, and I bet they never said, "Hey, wait a minute. You guys might be able to save a ton of money if you buy the less expensive model that fulfills all your needs at half the price."

Why not hire a salesman to tell you what's best for you? And, pay him for his consultation services as he explains that what you really need is to buy more goods and services from him.

An actual audit is supposed reveal ways to: 1. improve efficiency, 2. improve effectiveness, 3. reduce costs (usually as a byproduct of 1 and 2). What are AOS's recommendations for reducing cost and waste in the tech department? How does USD497 compare to other school districts in terms of technology spending, integration, and support? Are technology department staff knowledgeable and qualified?

AOS takes nice care of the tech department. Invites them to private suites at professional sporting events and things like that. No conflict of interest there.

Perhaps a real audit should be performed by an outside party that has no vested interest in the outcome of the audit. Seems like a no-brainer.

Wait, nevermind. Just spend more money and never ever look back.

aRobot 2 years, 2 months ago

Please link to a statute, law, or ordinance that addresses bullying. I'm pretty sure grownups are allowed to bully one another.

And why stop at giant bold font for your super relevant comment? Where's the all caps? MAN UP AND USE ALL CAPS NEXT TIME!

Thanks for taking the time to share your views on the bond issue. Now, back under your bridge, troll.

deec 2 years, 2 months ago

Wasn't the lottery supposed to help fund both schools and economic development? I wonder where all the millions of dollars of lottery ticket sales money have gone. Does the state even account for those funds, or do they just sort of disappear into the general fund?

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

You are exactly right. The lottery was sold to the public as something to provide upwards of 80% of the cost of education in the state. That money was quickly re allocated to the states general fund, and used for what ever purpose the legislature saw fit. It was a classic example of the ole bait and switch.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

Well, how do we overcome our trust issue with the schools? We know that the schools need renovation, and we know that we don't want any schools closed. What kind of information and assurances do we need?

aRobot 2 years, 2 months ago

Receipts and explanation of what the last bond or bonds were used for, and if there are concerns about that information then we need to know what oversight will be applied to spending this time around to make sure that money is used appropriately and goes where administration says it will go.

Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability - three things that presently seem very lacking in USD497 administration. Tell me where the money went and why. Otherwise, no more money.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

Very good points! I hadn't thought about explanations on the spend down of the last bond. We need to understand why we are wary.

William Ed 2 years, 2 months ago

The Administration would really like to have transparency, so that they could have accountability, but their financial management is so complicated that they are incapable of doing the right thing. Two cases in point, they had a really hard time finding the funds for the teacher's pay, but they found $200,000 (is that like 3 teachers?) for Gould a month later. They had to close Wakarusa so they could have $450,000 for kindergarden, but a month later they found $3.3 Million that they had to spend immediately, even though the state legislature had told them 5 years earlier that they had to reduce their contingency funds. Since their ability to exercise financial control is so demonstrably difficult, one has to wonder how they are able to keep the lights on....., yet they have the hutzpah to ask for $90 million for an undefined program being designed by their own in house designer. Causes one to wonder doesn't it...?

patkindle 2 years, 2 months ago

this is the board you folks elected, i dont see the problem, unless you didnt vote

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

This board was voted in after the decision was made to build the sports complexes. The election was in April, but the new board was seated in June.

Meatwad 2 years, 2 months ago

A very interesting education-related podcast from NPR that makes me wonder if we invested more in EARLY childhood issues, maybe it would save much in the long term, instead of having to fix problems later. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/474/back-to-school

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

Yes, I believe there's been some evidence that earlier interventions are more effective and also less expensive.

In addition to ones that include helping parents become better parents - there's an interesting program in Harlem that seems to be working quite well.

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