Editorial: Public process

The budget process followed by the Lawrence school district does little to accommodate public scrutiny and comment.

August 18, 2013


The Lawrence school district’s website lists three major goals for the district’s board and administration: excellence, equity and engagement.

The district may be doing fine on the first two goals, but it has a ways to go in the third goal to “develop a learning community of school, family and community partnerships …”

Engaging the community is a two-way street, and the way the district communicated with the public in recent budget deliberations is a continuing cause for concern.

No details about the district budget were revealed before the night that school board members were asked to approve the publication of a budget that set a maximum spending level for the coming year. A few more details were released and posted on the district’s website before a public hearing scheduled as part of the Aug. 12 board meeting. But a large installment of budget details wasn’t delivered until after that public hearing was over — when taxpayers who are funding that budget had no further opportunity for comment.

The public hearing didn’t exactly draw a crowd, but one district patron did come to the meeting with a question. He thought his question might be answered by the budget presentation so he asked if he could wait to hear that presentation before addressing the board. That wouldn’t be possible, he was told, because the public hearing on the budget was at the beginning of the agenda and the budget presentation to the board was at the end — after public comment was closed.

The man asked his question and got an answer, but we have no idea whether the detailed budget report the board received later in the meeting raised any other questions in the mind of this patron or any other district taxpayer. It didn’t really matter; the public hearing was over, and there was no further opportunity for questions.

The way the Lawrence district handled the budget process apparently is legal and not unique among Kansas school districts. However, it leaves the impression that the district isn’t really interested in engaging the public by revealing information and answering questions about budget details.

Lawrence district officials may think their patrons aren’t interested in all those budget details, but local taxpayers — not to mention state legislators — need to have confidence that school districts are using their tax dollars wisely and frugally. We assume the Lawrence district has nothing to hide, but the current process for sharing budget information leaves much to be desired.


IreneAdler84 4 years, 10 months ago

" We have no idea whether the detailed budget. . . . Raised any other questions in the mind of this patron or any other district taxpayer."

Nor do we have any idea whether monkeys then flew out of his butt. Seriously. I know this is an opinion piece, but it is the height of sloppy journalism to bring up an unnamed person and speculate about what he MIGHT have thought.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

I disagree.

The point being made is that the budget presentation was after public comment was closed. It would be better to present the budget first, and then let people consider it and give their input, don't you think?

IreneAdler84 4 years, 10 months ago

You can always stay after the meeting and ask a question. Or, you can call a board member. Their numbers are published in this newspaper.

I don't know if you watched the board meeting on Channel 6, but the guy's question didn't really pertain to the budget -something about FTEs. And, the superintendent then answered the question. This has been the way that the board has organized their meetings for a while. I am not sure why the LJW has suddenly decided that there is something nefarious about the order of the meeting agenda.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

The budget presentation to the board was at the end - after public comment was closed.

Sounds backwards to me.

Present the budget, then open the floor to questions and comments - that way people can get the relevant information, and make informed comments.

buffalo63 4 years, 10 months ago

Not nefarious, but doing nothing to educate the taxpayers as to how their money is or isn't spent. Having negotiated with other districts, the same thing occurs. They set a budget to "spend" money for various accounts and at the end of the year, while the account is "spent", in actuality the money has been moved to other places for items unrelated to the original account. Also reasons for $17 M surpluses.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 10 months ago

School budgets are really complicated and mostly dictated by state law. The school district has neither control over how much money they get nor how many students they need to spend it on. So, every year they have to pull out their Tarot cards and figure out the maximum amount they will need to spend and then what to do with the money if they don't exceed the maximum. The alternative is to send the money back to Topeka. Does anyone really think THAT would benefit anyone? I watched the meeting, they explained all of this. But, oddly enough, the LJW is not reporting on it.

Robert Schehrer 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes, the state does pay the local school districts money based on a per pupil basis. These funds support the General Operating Fund. The issue here is the Capital Outlay Fund. The amount of local taxes levied here is entirely at the wishes of the school district board. Can blame the state for this.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 10 months ago

Wilbur. The school superintendent's salary is paid out of the General Operating Fund, which is largely funded by state income taxes (State base aid), not property taxes.

County. Yes. The article was about Capital Outlay funds. But, I was responding to what Buffalo63 said, and perhaps I was wrong but I interpreted his (her?) comment to be about operating funds.

I will reiterate. If you care about these issues, you should actually go to the meetings or watch on TV. The LJW keeps raising these provocative rhetorical questions, that should not be rhetorical. They should actually find someone in the school district and ask the friggin questions and then ACTUALLY report the answers.

Cauac 4 years, 10 months ago

Sorry, the guy asked his question after the budget presentation. And he got an answer. So, no not after public comment was closed. Watching these meetings on TV is not exciting, but if the editorial writer cares enough to write an editorial, then maybe he or she should watch and, I don't know, become informed. Otherwise, he or she is no more informed than broken record wilbur.

Ann Gardner 4 years, 10 months ago

The editorial indicated the man got an answer to his question, but the timing may not have been clear. The answer came after the public hearing was closed and after the board’s discussion of the budget. The fact remains that a detailed explanation of the budget was not offered until the night of the meeting, giving the public little opportunity to examine or ask questions about budget issues.

Cauac 4 years, 10 months ago

If the "public" (i.e., the one person who showed up) asked a question and got an answer than De facto the public hearing was not closed. The statement that "there was no further opportunity for questions" is flat out wrong. If you have an actual question about whether "school districts are using their tax dollars wisely and frugally" than ask it. That would be a refreshing change from the another vague, and in this case, misleading editorial.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

The new board is user friendly which Is appreciated.

Want a good idea of where the tax might go? Ask for a copy of the budget which is thick and browse through it.

Got questions for the USD BOE:

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

Then watch on TV to learn more. Or go to the meetings.

I've learned plenty about the budget and the new Blended Learning approach in addition to some other matters which were not necessarily on my mind attending meetings.

This editorial was rather vague and the LJW coverage in the paper leaves out a lot of what is discussed.

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