First Bell: Hillcrest kindergartners to sell lemonade to help Japan; new district budget reports ‘all about transparency’; Lawrence students among Presidential Scholar semifinalists

A few education-oriented items from around the area and elsewhere:

Folks looking to boost relief efforts in Japan, quench their own thirsts or help support the artistic and philanthropic efforts of some dedicated kindergartners can accomplish all three tasks Friday afternoon at Hillcrest School.

There, outside the school at 1045 Hilltop Drive, two dozen kindergartners in the Boys and Girls Club after-school program will be selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup.

All proceeds will go to the American Red Cross, to help efforts in Japan to address the devastation from last month’s earthquake and massive tsunami.

The stand will be up and running from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and again next Friday, April 22. Lemonade will be served in plastic cups decorated by the students as part of their chosen “torch project,” the club’s name for a community-service effort.

That the students would choose an international effort isn’t surprising, said Dominique Crain, program manager for the Boys and Girls Club program at the school. Hillcrest serves as the main English as a Second Language site for the Lawrence school district, and multicultural programs and other efforts are more the norm than the exception.

Even among kindergartners.

“I’m very proud of them,” Crain said.


Budget issues continue to garner attention among followers — parents, employees, taxpayers, observers and others — of the Lawrence school district, and they’re about to get some more information to peruse.

Later this month, the district will begin releasing detailed accountings of its budget condition, documents designed to help answer questions about where the money is and where it’s going.

One document — 144 pages long — will be distributed for the second Lawrence school board meeting of each month, as part of the board’s regular agenda packet. Such packets are available electronically at by clicking on “ABOUT US,” then “School Board,” then the particular agenda under “School Board Basics.”

The goal: Ensure that the public has the information it both wants and needs regarding district finances.

“Transparency” emerged as a buzzword during recent campaigns for the Lawrence school board, with candidates often criticizing the district’s financial disclosures and suggesting that the public should play a larger role in the budgeting process. At least three of the four winning candidates — Rick Ingram, Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore — have indicated support for forming a public budget committee to help the board find ways to save and spend money.

Monday night, less than a week after the election, board members learned that new financial reports would be coming their way and, therefore, would be available to the general public.

“We’re all about transparency,” said Rich Minder, board president, who noted that he appreciates efforts that move the district “away from translucence and more toward transparency.”

Kathy Johnson, the district’s division director of finance, said that each “Budget to Actual Expenditure Report” would consolidate more than 500 pages of financial data into 144. It will include information about:

• Money in each particular fund, such as the General Fund and those for Capital Outlay, Local Option Budget, Drivers Training and laundry services for Lawrence and Free State high schools.

• Money within each fund for each particular “function” — such as “Instruction,” “Social Workers, “Site Administration” or others — regarded as “who” the money is spent on.

• Money within each function and within each fund to be spent on “objects,” such as “Certified compensation,” “FICA/Medicare,” “Supplies and Materials” and others. This would represent “what” the money would be spent on.

Also available for review will be a “Cash Summary Report.”

Scott Morgan — who, like Minder, will be leaving the board in July — described the district’s budget process as “bizarre,” blaming it on state law “built around a lack of trust, I guess, in what we do.”

Given that the district’s budget process “doesn’t make much sense,” he said, the district should endeavor to help members of the public understand what they’ll be looking at.

“It’s one thing to have data,” Morgan said. “It’s another to have information.”

Another outgoing board member, Marlene Merrill, described the informational effort as “the right approach,” and suggested that Johnson perhaps appear in one or more video tutorials that could accompany the data online.

Someone mentioned “Budget 101” as a working title, and Minder suggested compiling a “Frequently Asked Questions” feature.

“We’ll continue to tweak this,” Johnson said.

Board members say they’re looking forward to receiving the information.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Morgan said. “I think it’s a great quest.”


Two seniors from high schools in Lawrence are among about 560 semifinalists for a prestigious educational program.

Victoria Gilman, from Free State High School, and David Lawrence, from Bishop Seabury Academy, are among six semifinalists from Kansas competing with others nationwide and Americans living abroad for designation as academic scholars through the 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to recognize distinguished graduating seniors.

About 3,000 students had been invited to enter for the competition, based upon their exceptional scores on the ACT and SAT. Candidates then submitted essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts.

The U.S. Department of Education released the names of semifinalists this month. Next month the Commission on Presidential Scholars will name up to 121 Academic Scholars, honoring broad academic achievement.

Two other students from Lawrence had been invited to enter the competition: Rosemarie Murray, from Free State; and Yuan “Jenny” Xu, from Lawrence High School.