LPS: Living up to community trust as we rebuild

I wrote this guest column for the Lincoln Journal Star and it was published in the newspaper on Friday, Feb. 24. The article concerns rebuilding Lincoln Public Schools District Offices, and I would encourage you to help us spread accurate information about this development. 

Thanks,  Steve

LPS: Living up to community trust as we rebuild

Nine months ago we watched the Lincoln Public Schools District Office building disappear in flames, but we took little time to grieve. Thanks to incredible community support we have accomplished miracles since that fateful Memorial Day weekend, moving forward with a serious commitment to fiscal responsibility, public discussion, and living up to the trust you have placed in us.

Today we are well on the way to providing an energy-efficient, purpose-designed structure that better serves our school district and community.  We will add new money to the sales and property tax rolls. And we are close to sealing the deal with a great new neighbor that will add flavor and energy to our community.

We are grateful to our citizens and their understanding that – as we consider this crucial investment in our future – we remain steadfast to our basic guiding principles:

  • We must honor the people who work at LPS District Offices: These are the people who care for the people who care for and educate our children.
  • We must honor our taxpayers. The Lincoln Board of Education is committed to maximizing the insurance settlement to pay for rebuilding and, as good stewards of tax dollars, to selling off a portion of our real estate.
  • We must honor the timeline. Our school district has moved ahead thoughtfully but in a timely, deliberate manner, recognizing that insurance costs will only pay rental on our temporary office space for a limited time.

We appreciate the community interest in this project, because we know it means Lincoln deeply cares about public education.  We have remained resolute in our dedication to open public discussion as well as public scrutiny, making sure we use a visible process throughout.

In this spirit, we would like to take a moment and review the prudent step-by-step process implemented in our nine-month journey.

  1. Our building was still smoldering when early offers to purchase the O Street site began to arrive – offers that included bids far below what some are now saying we should demand.
  2. Instead, we looked to an open process to select the location for rebuilding our District Offices, carefully analyzing the 30 some suggested sites.  Our Board of Education made a decision to return to 5901 O St. while offering part of the site for private, taxable development.
  3. We continued the open process in exploring the four major proposals we received for developing our O Street site, financial offers that were all in the same ballpark – and not anywhere near some of the amounts currently suggested by a few critics. Of course, we must be wise and vigilant in remembering that land is worth what a buyer will pay, not what a few bystanders might suggest.
  4. The Board of Education voted to open negotiations with Continuum Partners, a choice based on its overall, quality proposal – and for the lead business it brought to the table. We anticipate the Board of Education will begin discussion of a final agreement with Continuum in March.

We continue our important work remaining sensitive to the needs and concerns of our taxpayers.

Our community expects us to be good stewards of all the resources they entrust to us, but they also expect us to make sound judgments that consider more than just dollar signs.  We believe an effective school district makes decisions that are not just about money, but are about how we best serve our children, our schools and our community.  We have looked at factors that included a central location, land that was ready for development – without any immediate strings or hurdles – mixed-use development and long-term tenants that are compatible with the needs of our community.

Our goal is to break ground this spring and move into our new building in the summer of 2013.  Ultimately, we must ask our community to judge the quality and value of the finished development.  We believe in this project – and we believe in you.

We encourage you to help us spread the word about this project – accurately – and contact us if you have any questions, 402-436-1601.

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Stephen Joel

About Stephen Joel

Dr. Steve Joel is the Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools. A native of Long Island, New York, with degrees from Doane College, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Kansas State, Dr. Joel has extensive experience as a superintendent in Kansas and Nebraska. Prior to coming to Lincoln, he served for ten years as superintendent in Grand Island and eight years in Beatrice.