Opinion: Local taxpayer shows interest in school budget

August 23, 2013


roperty taxes went to support USD 497 in 2012, I thought it prudent to attend the school board meeting on Aug. 12 supposedly to discuss next year’s budget. This was my first time attending such a meeting. I also wanted to examine and ask about technology expenses, since I have reservations about computer use and the development of young minds.

I arrived shortly before the meeting was called to order, was handed a copy of next year’s budget, and was asked if I wanted to make a comment or ask a question. I requested the opportunity to ask a general question/comment about technology expenses. I expressed my concerns (though no one on the board replied).

As the meeting progressed, I had the distinct impression that the budget had already been approved, and this budget meeting was a mere rubber-stamp formality. (At the end of the regular meeting, I asked an unrelated question about how the district determines student enrollment and received a good answer from the superintendent.)

While listening to the various presentations at the meeting, I perused the nearly 100-page budget packet. All of the numbers on the summary page added up correctly, but I began to wonder how much due diligence the board had spent on reviewing individual budget expenses (particularly those related to technology). These contracts may have already been studied and vetted carefully, but it appeared that a number of “earmarks” had been added to the budget without sufficient scrutiny (many of the contracts were dated in late July or early August, 2013).

Just to give my fellow taxpayers a sample of these contracts (all dated Aug. 8, 2013): $100,000 to replace desktop computers with laptops; $1,780,000 to purchase curriculum and marketing outreach from K12, Inc.; $184,370 to buy new computers and furniture for the Boys and Girls Club

These might all be valid contracts, passing through a rigorous analysis, but I don’t recall any public discussion on these purchases. As I wrote to the school superintendent after the meeting, most parents/taxpayers don’t mind spending money to improve the education of children, provided it is well spent. From what I saw at the budget meeting earlier this month, I’m not sure this is altogether true for USD 497.

— Ray Finch is a Lawrence resident and taxpayer.


William Ed 4 years, 7 months ago

It is interesting to note that the technology enhancements which will cost the district many $$$'s and are "vitally" needed because the current equipment will not support the demand, have not been installed yet. However, blended learning is in full force at several schools, and each student will have a computer which will challenge the capacity of the school's system. That hasn't delayed the start of blended learning. One has to wonder if there really is a need for the expenditure, or if the schools can not handle the demand, is blended learning premature?

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