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School board notes: AVID; weeds; Langston Hughes project

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The Lawrence school board meeting Monday night was dominated by discussion of the school finance bill that state lawmakers recently passed, but Gov. Sam Brownback is still yet to sign or veto.

But there was other activity worthy of note, much of it buried on the consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion because they were matters the board had discussed previously. Among the more significant items:

• AVID expanding to middle school: "Advancement Via Individual Determination" is a college-readiness program designed mainly for students who need a little extra push to help them get ready. It includes an elective course for what might be called "C" students, or those in the academic middle, as well as under-served populations that often aren't represented in college prep courses, especially immigrant students and those who would be the first in their families ever to go to college.

Lawrence schools implemented the program in both high schools and district officials say it has been successful. Starting next year, it will also be available in each of the four middle schools. That will involve spending $53,428 this year for start-up costs, including membership fees and library materials.

• Turf, tree and landscape management: Last month, the board deferred action on a proposed landscape management plan, mainly over concerns about the use (or non-use) of fertilizers and herbicides in residential areas.

The district maintains more than 135 acres of lawn scattered throughout the city, and in a town like Lawrence it's an issue that can cause friction with residential neighbors either way. In some neighborhoods, residents are vehemently opposed to spraying chemicals for any number of reasons. And in other areas, neighbors get upset if the schools don't spray for weeds because that means the dandelions will just spread onto their property.

So the new policy tries to thread the needle by leaving the decision up to school site councils. They'll be able to opt for: (A) Organic fertilizers only; (B) No fertilizer and herbicides, either organic or EPA registered; or (C) EPA registered fertilizers and herbicides.

• Langston Hughes project: This will be one of the first construction and remodeling projects to be started as part of the district's recent $92.5 million bond issue. Construction is scheduled to get underway this month. McCown Gordon Construction is the "construction manager at risk" on the package of projects that includes Langston Hughes, meaning they are in charge of hiring contractors, overseeing the project and bringing it in within budget.

The initial budget for that project, which includes adding two new classrooms, was just over $2.9 million. But when bids were received April 1, they came in a little higher than expected, with a guaranteed maximum price of $2,938,387, which includes a 5-percent contingency for unforeseen events that may crop up later. As a result, the board approved a contract amendment reflecting the $18,176 increase.

Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hayden, however, said he is confident the overall bond-funded construction program will remain within the budget.

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