Supporters of the Lawrence school district's proposed $92.5 million bond issue said Tuesday that it would equip local teachers and schools for 21st century education while providing a boost to the local economy.
But a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative, free-market oriented political action group said the bond proposal is poorly thought out and suggested district officials to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different plan.
"If you look at the Chamber of Commerce, and lot of people that I talk to in the coffee shops across town can't understand why we need this new bond issue when the kids that are coming out can't read," said AFP coordinator Jim Mullins. "And I concur with them."
But school board member Rick Ingram fired back, saying: "Number one, our kids can read. And number two, the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed this bond."
Those comments came during a town hall meeting about the bond proposal. The forum was sponsored by the Voter Education Coalition, a nonpartisan coalition of more than a dozen Lawrence-area businesses and organizations that promotes voter participation by holding community forums.
If approved, about $80 million would be used to improve the district's 14 elementary schools, with most of that used for upgrading and expanding the six older schools in central and east Lawrence to bring them up to the same standards as the newer schools.
Another $6.5 million would be used for technology enhancements throughout the district, and $5.7 million to expand career and technical education offered at the district's Holcom facility.
Several questions from the public focused on why the district is now proposing to upgrade and modernize all 14 elementary schools instead of the original plan to close and consolidate some of the older schools.
"The reality is, enrollment is increasing," Ingram said. "This is not the time you want to start closing or consolidating schools."
Ingram said consolidating schools would still require a large construction project to expand one building, or build an entirely new one, but other buildings would still need expansions to allow for projected growth. And in the end, he said, it would not result in significant cost savings.
But Mullins disagreed, calling it "disingenuous" to say the district couldn't figure out a way to make consolidation work.
"Lawrence is better than that," he said. "We could do that if we wanted to."
Voters in the Lawrence district will decide on the bond proposal in Tuesday's election. Voters will also elect three members of the Lawrence school board as well as three members of the Lawrence City Commission.