Both having grown up in families of educators, we know the value of ensuring high quality public schools for future generations. This, along with our own personal experiences with the Lawrence public schools (Paul graduated from Lawrence High School, as did Sandy’s two grown children), fueled our decisions to serve as co-chairs of Yes for Lawrence, a grassroots citizens’ committee promoting passage of the Lawrence school bond election on April 2.
The result of years of thorough community study and thoughtful planning, the school board’s bond proposal is about taking care of our neighborhood schools so they may continue to serve children well for many years to come. This long-range plan will improve all school buildings, especially older elementary schools in need of repairs, upgrade our schools’ technology infrastructure and construct a center to meet career and technical educational training needs.
I (Paul) attended Hillcrest Elementary School as a child, and when I return for a visit, it seems that the building has changed little. Originally built in 1954, many of the classrooms, including those used for kindergarten, art, music and special education, are undersized. The gymnasium doubles as a cafeteria with an inadequate kitchen. Students must go outdoors to four portable classrooms, because the building lacks permanent space. Parts of the school’s heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems are past their useful life. The bond issue will fix all of this at Hillcrest and similar needs at the other elementary schools, as well as address space concerns at both high schools.
Today’s schools must continue to invest in technology in order to prepare students for their futures. The board has wisely decided not to use 20-year bond funds to buy mobile devices with a short shelf life. Instead, bond funds targeted for technology enhancements across all of our schools will strengthen the infrastructure that supports student instruction. Improving wireless network capabilities throughout the district promotes 21st century teaching and learning and enables the board to use capital funds to purchase additional mobile devices needed for teacher and student educational use.
Another exciting part of the bond proposal grew from budding partnerships among the school district and area community colleges and technical schools. The construction of a career and technical education center will assist our high school students in building college and career readiness skills in fields like health sciences, commercial construction, manufacturing and technology networking. Filling a void in Lawrence, this facility also can double as a community center to be used to meet the technical training needs of adults and businesses.
Excellent schools drive a strong local economy. Recognizing that our property values, economic development growth and quality of life depend upon a successful school system, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board of directors unanimously endorsed the school bond issue. Think of the economic boost that $92.5 million in local construction, renovation, heating and air conditioning, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and technology wiring projects will bring to this community. In addition, when the district installs energy-efficient mechanical systems, engineers estimate that it will save $280,000 annually in utility costs. These are savings that can be re-invested in education.
Ours is bipartisan support for the school bond election. Regardless of the political climate in Topeka, the Lawrence community has always supported its public schools. The school board has proposed a fiscally responsible plan, one that doesn’t raise the mill levy. This is a rare opportunity for our community to pass a bond election for significant school improvements without a tax increase.
We encourage you to join us in voting “Yes” on April 2 to ensure that our teachers can continue their great work with kids in safe, up-to-date and energy-efficient school buildings with access to technology that supports a first-rate education. All of us benefit when our high school graduates are prepared to enter college and the workforce and to begin making their own positive contributions as citizens.