Editorial: Bond reservations

Questions about the process and details of Lawrence’s proposed $92.5 million school bond issue don’t inspire an enthusiastic endorsement.

Chances are, every voter who marks a ballot in the April 2 $92.5 million school bond election has a memory of his or her elementary school — the building itself and the teachers and principal.

Those memories, in addition to current familiarity with the condition of many older Lawrence school buildings, may frame each voter’s decision to favor or oppose the ballot question.

No one would wish a decrepit facility on today’s students. Those who are urging passage of the bond question rightly point out that upgrades to space, to HVAC systems and to technology will enhance the education that youngsters get while attending classes in these buildings.

Proponents also hammer home the point that there is no tax increase associated with the bond issue, and that it will provide jobs in Lawrence for a number of years. They also point to the career education component of the issue.

Those are valid arguments.

But they’re not overwhelmingly persuasive.

On the career education piece, differences apparently remain over the district’s plans to locate the facility at Holcolm Park instead of the site preferred by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce at the former Farmland location on Kansas Highway 10.

On the overall issue, questions remain about the board’s approach, which seemed to involve going from school to school essentially promising to meet the wishes of patrons, and then maxing out the bond issue at $92.5 million, the most that could be financed without a tax increase – at least in that fund. Is this the best and most honest way to meet the overall needs of the district and assure a quality education for the district’s students?

Certainly the process has identified legitimate needs that should be addressed. It’s important that Lawrence has a top-quality school system — for many reasons, foremost being the education offered to our students, but another is that it’s a key factor in business location decisions.

Is there a better way to achieve a top-quality school system than simply to pour more money into aging facilities? Is building a modern school for contemporary needs to serve East Lawrence now and into the future preferable? Is the bond issue, which appears to be throwing money at a variety of undefined problems, the best use of $92.5 million? Has the school board and district administration fully explored options that might produce a less predictable, traditional course?

Supporting the bond issue is the comfortable position to take, but the questions surrounding the manner in which the proposal was developed do not lend themselves to an enthusiastic endorsement.

If it passes, let’s hope that the expenditures prove to have been worth the money and that the ultimate beneficiaries are the students and the community. If it fails, let’s hope the next school board quickly can develop a substitute proposal undergirded by a clearly articulated statement concerning the plan for using the money — a statement that makes the bond issue more of a magnet for community support than “no tax increase” and “something for every school.”

Either way, let’s hope that the school experience in Lawrence produces pleasant memories for our students for years to come.