Members of the Lawrence school board are right to be cautious about how they spend the money in a $92.5 million bond issue approved by taxpayers in April.
However, that caution shouldn’t cause the board to bypass opportunities to use money from that bond issue to help leverage an even bigger local investment in career and technical education.
Board members took a couple of positive steps at their meeting on Monday: They agreed to continue talks with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce about an alternate site for a new career education center, and they decided to hold a series of public meetings to gather community input on the possibility of the district participating in a community effort to develop such a center.
The board is understandably concerned about shifting the focus of bond funds, but this situation is far different from the funding switch that occurred several years ago to use leftover bond funds to pay for athletic facilities at the district’s two high schools. It’s true that information distributed before the April election indicated that about $5.7 million from the bond issue would go toward developing a new career and technical education center at Holcom Park, but even before the election, some community leaders were floating the idea of a community partnership that might involve another site.
We suspect that voters who approved that bond issue were more focused on the need for additional vocational and technical training in Lawrence than on an exact location of a center to offer that training. It’s fine for the board to cover its bases by confirming that through public meetings.
The Chamber of Commerce has been working with local banks and area community colleges and technical schools to develop a training center in Lawrence. The school district now has $5.7 million in bond funds dedicated to a career center, of which $4.3 million was to be used to construct a building for that purpose. It would be great if those two opportunities could come together at a mutually beneficial site.
The worst possible outcome, it seems, would be to have two entities — the Chamber of Commerce and the school district — operating separate, similar programs at two different locations while competing for both students and partnerships with area community colleges and technical schools. That scenario would result in a real waste of taxpayer money.
As noted at the outset, school board members are right to be cautious, but they also need to be open to an opportunity to work with other community entities on a project that could provide even greater benefit for local students.