Archive for Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Editorial: School surprise

A hastily drawn and approved plan to double the new elementary classroom space in Lawrence may raise concerns among local voters and taxpayers.

September 11, 2013


Less than six months after gaining voter approval for a major school construction bond issue, the Lawrence school board — without additional voter approval or adequate opportunity for community comment — has agreed to more than double the number of new classrooms in Lawrence elementary schools.

Both the process and the rationale for the action at Monday night’s meeting again gnaws away at the public’s confidence in the district’s leadership and transparency.

The $92.5 million bond issue approved in April provided funding for 11 new elementary classrooms, mostly to replace portable classrooms still in use at various schools. Presumably , the people putting together the bond issue proposal had looked at enrollment projections and come up with a recommendation that they thought accounted for reasonable growth in the district.

Or maybe not. District officials appeared to be caught off guard by an increase of 1.8 percent or 95 elementary students this fall. So, less than a month after the beginning of the school year, administrators put together a plan to add another 12 new elementary classrooms along with six classroom “shells” that can be finished later at Sunset Hill School. The plan — funded using $600,000 in bond premium funds, $500,000 in bond interest and $2 million from the district’s capital outlay fund — was outlined to the public for the first time in a memo from Superintendent Rick Doll dated Sept. 5 and approved by the board just four days later.

That didn’t give the public — voters and taxpayers — a lot of time to examine the plan or ask questions such as: Why did the enrollment data on which the initial bond issue was based so widely miss the mark? How do we know that this year’s increase in enrollment is the beginning of a trend rather than a one-year aberration? Even if the district loses some economies of scale by postponing additional construction, would it be better off making sure it needs the additional space before agreeing to build it?

A couple of statements made by Doll at Monday’s meeting should raise additional concerns. “This is the right time to think about the number of elementary classrooms” the district needs, the superintendent said. On the contrary, the “right time” to think about that was before the district sought voter approval for a bond issue.

“One of the worst things we could do is conclude our bond construction process and not have enough room,” Doll told the board. That may be one of the worst things. Another would be to authorize spending that wasn’t really approved by voters to build classroom space that turns out not to be needed or perhaps not needed in the locations where it is being built.

Before the bond election, board members repeatedly voiced concern about being transparent with the public and not repeating the mistake of previous boards that altered spending strategies after bond issues were approved. The current board apparently thinks this situation is different and justified. Maybe it is, but the arrogant action the board took on Monday deserved more public discussion and opportunity for public input than four days notice, including a weekend, allowed.

Or could it be that the superintendent and his complicit board members don’t want the public to know too much about the thinking and goals of the board and how they impact the community?


IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

"Presumably, the people putting together the bond proposal looked at enrollment projections. . . Or, maybe not."

Maybe, a real newspaper, with real reporters, would ask that question. Or, maybe not.

David Klamet 4 years, 9 months ago

How long has it been since Wakarusa and other elementary schools were closed???

No doubt enrollment can be hard to predict, but closing schools then building or expanding a few years later is crazy. Wakarusa had just been expanded a few years before it was closed

I have no doubt that it will be said that it is cheaper to build a new one than reopen any of those which were closed. It amazes me that people will probably believe that.

If something seems to run contrary to common sense, than it probably is.

Incompetence is the new mediocrity.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

I get that people are still upset about closing Wakarusa. But, surely people aren't suggesting that we reopen Wakarusa and bus kids from Deerfield or Langston Hughes to Wakarusa.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

I seem to remember that you were a very passionate supporter of this board and insisted that they wouldn't change what they spent the money on after the bond was passed.

Apparently they're doing just that - have you changed your view of them?

For IA.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

The purpose of this bond was to improve elementary schools. This plan is designed to improve elementary schools. This costs no more money and does not take away from any other parts of the plan. I don't see how this is a change.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Well, I may be wrong, but it certainly seems that they're going to spend much more money on some things than planned.

That would be a change.

And, they'll be spending about $2 million from the capital outlay fund, which if they weren't planning to do, means they're spending more money. How can you double the number of new classrooms without spending more money?

Also, I don't understand the "use of bond interest" - when the school board issues bonds, that means they're borrowing money, so they pay interest, they don't receive it, right?

Added up together, this is a new $3 million expense (about), not discussed or disclosed before the bond was passed.

jimjayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

Yes you are wrong. None of the bond funds will be used for these additional rooms; they will all go for what was promised (or at least there is no indication now that they will not). So, there is no change from what voters passed except that they are doing more than they said they would; but not from bond funds. From Peter Hancock's previous article: "$600,000 premium the district earned on the sale of its bonds; an estimated $500,000 in interest it expects to earn on the deposit of bond proceeds; and $2 million in capital improvement funds." Capital improvement funds are intended for projects like this.Yes, they are spending more money, but taxpayers don't have to pay an extra dime.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

That's only true if they were planning to spend about $1 million initially, from bond premiums and interest. Also, I'd be very interested in understanding how they're going to make money on the bonds from their interest, since they're going to have to pay bondholders interest on the bonds, right? Sounds a little off to me - they can't both simultaneously use the bond money and invest it, and where are they going to invest it to earn that interest, so that they can use that and also pay bond holders the interest they're due?

I said they're spending more money, I didn't say that we'd have to pay more right now. But, of course, once capital improvement funds have been used, I imagine we'll see an attempt to replace those for future projects.

They were planning to add about 11 classrooms, and they're adding twice that amount - that can't be done without spending more money, and it's a clear change from what was discussed prior to the bond issue.

They could cut other expenditures to cover the extra classrooms, of course, but that would be another change from what was proposed.

jimjayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

You can't understand how this works, so the board must be up to no-good. But then again, you are convinced that they are up to no good no matter what they do. If it makes you feel better to call this a change, have at it. I for one am happy that kids will have a place to go to class if the school population does continue to grow. And I am really happy that this will come at no additional cost to taxpayers. But, I am done trying to explain it to you.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago


As a strong supporter of public education, I find your attitude disturbing, and the actions of school boards when they issue bonds and then change how they spend the money.

It's enough to make me vote against those bonds, in fact.

So, if you want to reduce the number of people who vote for school bonds, keep doing what you're doing.

And, I have to note that you were unable to respond to any of the points I made.

David Klamet 4 years, 9 months ago

Kids are being bussed from Wakarusa into town. Boundaries can be shifted. There are many possible solutions, continuing to close schools and build others should be at the bottom of the list.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

No body is talking about closing schools!!!! The purpose of this bond AND these revisions is to ADD capacity to existing schools so that kids can STAY in their current schools and don't have to be bused to a school that is farther away.

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 9 months ago

Dr. Doll has been very consistant in how he operates. He has consistantly given the public false impressions, manipulated bond money for his own hidden agenda, and made poor use of our school resources. I am continually amazed that the community puts up with this man. Our children deserve someone interested in quality education, not politics. It's too bad that it is so difficult to remove a school superintendent in Douglas County. Thank goodness the teachers and principals care.

jimjayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

If we didn’t have an axe to grind how would we look at this action? By adding classrooms, the board essentially built the equivalent of a new school. They did it in a manner that was completely consistent with the intent of the bond, at a fraction of the cost of a new school, and in fact at no additional cost to the taxpayers. They probably delayed the need to build a new elementary school on the fringes of the community for a number of years, thus saving more money. They did this in a way that was consistent with the community’s desire to preserve their schools. They did it in an open meeting that was streamed live that could be seen by anyone with a computer. The meeting stream is archived on the their website now and can still be seen by anyone with a computer. It was in the agenda that they published ahead of time and that was discussed ahead of time by the LJW’s school reporter. Pretty transparent if you ask me. I was not here when Wakarusa closed, but my understanding is that the school is a ways out there and, as a previous commenter said, you would probably have to bus kids there to get it to capacity. Maybe no new growth will occur in which case we will have some extra space. But if new growth occurs and the board didn’t do this, we would again have even more kids going to school in portables. A calculated risk at no additional cost. So good job school board and shame on the lazy journalism of the LJW.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

But, the LJW DOES have an axe to grind. Their editorial position has consistently been on the side of closing schools. Of course any sensible person would look at these enrollment numbers and realize what a bad idea that would have been. But, hey- why not believe on Wed what you believed on Monday. Never mind what happened on Tuesday.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

Please remember the majority of this BOE did not close any schools?

That was the mistake of a previous BOE ...... you know the BOE that blew $20 million USD 497 tax dollars on PLAY the never ending athletic project that just corralled another $40 million tax dollars on the far west super duper rec center ..... aka pork barrel spending.

The USD 497 portion of PLAY is still costing taxpayers money. Not a well managed project.

The lions share of this BOE had nothing to do with closing schools or the PLAY project.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

"USD 497 agreed to sell 2.31 acres at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway to the Kansas Department of Transportation for $173,250. KDOT is purchasing the land for a new interchange." Good deal.

"The additional projects could be financed with the $600,000 premium the district earned on the sale of its bonds; an estimated $500,000 in interest it expects to earn on the deposit of bond proceeds; and $2 million in capital improvement funds."

Please remember the majority of this BOE did not close any schools?

William Ed 4 years, 9 months ago

There are a couple of misconceptions in the above comments.

One, the Wakarusa facility could be utilized at no change in "time on the bus," but since not very many people are fully familiar with the travel times in that area (no one is thinking about busing children from Deerfield), it should be pointed out that there are many pickup points on the south side of town, from which the time to get to Wakarusa is actually shorter than the time that it takes to get to the schools which they now attend. Dr. Doll refuses to acknowledge this fact. An example is the area at the junction of Clinton Parkway and Hwy. 10. For those kids to go to Langston Hughes takes longer that it would take them of drive across the dam. The same is true of the areas at the junctions of Kashold and 31st. In the past the kids from the area to the west of the Movie theater went to Wakarusa. The time on the bus for those students to go to Schwegler is a little longer.

Myth number two. When you build a new school at Sunset Hill, which is de facto what is being done, it will require busing the kids from Quail Run to that school to fill it up. Apparently the reason for doing this is to relieve the crowding at Langston Hughes. As pointed out, this could have been done by using the Wakarusa facility. If there is crowding on the east side, an alternative would obviously have been to reopen an existing facility if additional room was really needed, such as Centennial or East Hills and redraw boundaries to accommodate the schools.

Because of the unpredictability of birthrates, new facilities can't be constantly built to accommodate every annual perturbation. As a community we must learn to understand that using our existing resources is the only way that we are going to be able to provide funding for education within available resources. Just because you have a line of credit for $92.5 Million, doesn't mean that it MUST be spent.

The monthly payment on a $12,000,000 loan is $72,713,639. You can run a lot of busses for that kind of money, with a little left over for picnics in the park for any disgruntled parents.

jimjayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

I will buy everything you say if you can document exactly what the travel times are from the various points you mention, as well as the number of kids that this would bring to Wakarusa from the places you mention, and how this would impact overcrowding at the other schools. Also, please tell us exactly how much in new operating expenses would be required for this school. Because busing is not done from less than 2.5 miles, please include in your financial description how much the additional busing would cost. And if the bond money is going to be diverted as you describe, please prepare a reason to give to parents at other schools why their schools will not see the improvements that were promised. Otherwise, you are attempted to debunk "myths" with more myths.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

Keeping children in school buses is not necessarily productive.

Burning a lot more fossil fuel is certainly not productive.

Keeping class sizes smaller is productive. Particularly for those children who need more attention.

The more children that are able to walk or ride bikes to school the healthier it is for the child. Some exercise starting out the day energizes the human system.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

The more classrooms the smaller the classes the larger the impact.

Meanwhile change is under way at USD 497. But one example of progress so it seems. In the Lawrence schools learning is taking a new step.

Blended Learning -

This "blended learning" model — combining in-person teaching and online learning — is being tried in a small but growing number of innovative schools nationwide, such as those in the Mooresville School District in North Carolina, Carpe Diem charter schools in Arizona and Indianapolis, and several district schools in Oakland.

Says Chaves: "We're having an impact we couldn't have in a traditional model school."

William Ed 4 years, 9 months ago

Vertigo thanks for catching my Typo-$72,713.64.

Take a look at school boundaries

One example is the driving time from the Lake Villa area to Wakarusa Valley Elementary School (Lawrence Virtual School) verses driving time to Langston Hughes:

Time from Lake Villa to Langston Hughes was 5 min. and 57 sec. (I did not have to wait at either of the two stop lights). Time from Lake Villa to Wakarusa/Lawrence Virtual School was 5 min. and 58 seconds. (There are no stop lights)

None of the areas suggested would be within the 2.5 mile area about which you are concerned.

As far as fuel consumption is concerned the buses currently run from all parts of the district to the schools being used. By using existing facilities such as Wakarusa, Centennial, and East Hills there would be opportunities for children to safely walk.

Sunflower, Langston Hughes, Schwegler, and Broken Arrow all have large elementary class sizes. Redrawing the Broken Arrow boundary would move many children to Wakarusa Valley Elementary. Before the BOE closed Wakarusa, approximately 70 additional students needed to be added to the Wakarusa enrollment to make it match the number of students at New York. For example, there are that many in the Lake Villa area plus the area to the southeast of Kashold and Bob Billings. The Administration would have to provide the exact numbers.

As can be seen from the boundary map, it would not be difficult to ease class sizes at Broken Arrow, Schwegler, Sunflower and Langston Hughes by utilizing the Wakarusa facility, and I might add “at a cost savings.” By using the Centenial facility, additional classrooms would not be needed at Cordley.

The effects of class size are well recognized, especially for elementary students. The district is doing the students and the teachers a great disservice with large class sizes.

Bond funds in the amount of $9 million plus are to make Sunset Hill a mega school. If half of that money was used to improve Sunset Hill, that would leave $4.5 million plus to accomplish work on any or all of the three existing facilities, or not spend it. Now that’s a novel idea.

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