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LJWorld.com weblogs First Bell

And now begins the campaign ...

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Having agreed unanimously Monday night to seek voter approval for a $92.5 million bond issue, Lawrence school officials are now about to launch a public relations campaign to sell the idea.

To get things going, the district announced Tuesday that it's soliciting questions from the public so it can publish a Q&A fact sheet about the proposal.

According to the district's email newsletter that went out Tuesday afternoon, one example of a question might be about how many "portable" buildings will be eliminated and replaced with permanent structures if the bond issue is approved.

Answer: "The bond issue will fund the construction of permanent classroom space to replace seven elementary portables: three at Hillcrest, one at New York, one at Sunflower and two at Sunset Hill. While intended as a temporary solution to provide additional classroom space, some of these portable units are 20-30+ years old."

However, based on emails and online comments we've already seen here at the Journal-World, district officials might want to brace themselves for some more complex questions than that.

Much of the online discussion early Tuesday seemed to focus on the question of a "No Tax Increase" bond issue and just exactly how that's going to be defined.

These kinds of issues always raise the semantic question: If a tax is scheduled to decrease or expire, but elected officials take action to leave the tax in place or hold it steady, does that action qualify as a tax increase? I can't count the number of hours I've listened to people debate that question, with people on both sides passionately insisting there is only one answer to it.

Based on the discussion Monday night, it appears that school board members intend the term to mean that the district's bond and interest mill levy will not go up as a result of the bond issue. That's because the district is retiring some old bonds this year, plus the fact that the new bonds will probably have a much lower interest rate.

That, however, may leave room for the possibility that the mill levy could go up for other reasons, like a general decline in the district's assessed valuation, which is exactly what Douglas County officials are bracing for in their own budget planning. It's a complicated situation stemming mainly from the fact that the property values will have to be adjusted in 2013 to account for the fact that real estate had been generally over-appraised in the past.

This may turn out to be more than just an academic question, something akin to counting angels dancing on a pin. According to a survey commissioned by the district, there is fairly broad support for the bond proposal generally (55 percent), but that number jumps to 75 percent when potential voters are told it will not result in a tax increase.

A 5-percent margin is enough to win an election. But a 25-percent margin provides a lot of cushion, especially if it turns out to be a low-turnout election.

We here at the Journal-World would like to know your questions, too. And that's not just because we're nosy, or we can't come up with our own story ideas. That same survey that measured voter attitudes about the bond issue also took a snapshot of where Lawrence voters get their information about the school district.

According to that survey, 69 percent of the respondents said they get much of their information from the Journal-World print edition. That was second only to conversations with friends and family.

We take your trust seriously and want to do everything we can to make sure you have the information you need to cast an informed vote in April.

You can email your questions to me at phancock@ljworld.com.

Comments

Benjamin Roberts 2 years ago

The last big bond issue was not used for the purpose for which it was approved. In fact, much of it was used to build the equity stadium at LHS. That fact accounts for a lot of deferred maintenance at the middle schools, and many of the millions of dollars of the proposed bond.

Can, or will, the school board include language in the bond or proposal that will limit the spending to the actual intent of the bond? Can the bond mandate exactly where the funds must be spent? Can the bond prevent current or future boards, from changing the allocations of the bond money?

The public, for good cause, has lost trust in USD497's leadership and board. Previous boards deceived the public on these types of bonds. Why should the public trust the new board and the old leadership? What guarantees will be given? What mechanism will ensure proper (proposed) spending of the bond money?

Fool me once shame on you ... fool me twice - NO, you don't get that chance.

buffalo63 2 years ago

Very good questions! My concern is how the money is actually spent. I recall at least three times the Board "spent" the $2 million "saved" from the bond to rebuild South Middle school. How will we know that we are getting quality building, equipment, etc. that will actually last and not the cheap stuff to "save" money?

buffalo63 2 years ago

There are well documented examples of construction around town that have major items inserted or eliminated from the plans that are approved by the City. While I understand problems can arise that necessitate minor changes, but to build something different and then say "Oops, Sorry" isn't going to cut it.

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