Emerson Lynn told USD 257 board members Monday night that he was “convinced that everything we do to strengthen the Bowlus Fine Arts Center strengthens Iola. I am also dead certain that anything we do to weaken or damage the Bowlus will hurt Iola grievously.”
Lynn addressed the board out of his concern that the school district, which oversees the Bowlus, is veering in a direction that rather than seeing the Bowlus as offering district students an exemplary venue for their fine arts education, is seen as a burden.
The district has classrooms for art, music and drama in the Bowlus Center which its students have enjoyed since the mid-1960s.
It pays about $130,000 annually toward Bowlus operating costs. That amount will drop by $6,450 when middle school vocal and instrumental music is moved to what for years has been a technology room in the middle school. The district also figures to save $16,300 in transportation costs because IMS students have been bused to the center.
Some cost will be involved with the move to buy instruments and refit the room.
LYNN SAID the Bowlus is an extraordinary asset that “gives Iola bragging rights. … No other city in southeast Kansas offers its citizens and its visitors richer cultural fare.”
He and his wife Mickey, who died a year ago, long have been patrons of the fine arts center, Lynn said, and have “backed our commitment … with contributions,” including a bequest of $100,000 to the Friends of the Bowlus upon her death. Lynn said he had decided to add $150,000 to his wife’s gift but added, “I am having second thoughts about that because I no longer have confidence that the Bowlus Fine Arts Center will be allowed to operate as it has.”
Lynn noted that the Bowlus Center regularly receives gifts and bequests, including that of the late Wayne Archer who left the bulk of his $1 million estate to the Bowlus. Because the Friends have used contributions to do a multitude of repairs, replacements and upgrades to the center, its capital account has not grown. It is now about $800,000.
Lynn noted that it would take an endowment of at least $4 million in today’s investment market to generate sufficient income to cover expenses and meet needs the Friends have assumed for the district. That’s not likely to be accumulated any time soon, if ever, he said, so the Bowlus is dependent on the district for its operating money, “just as the rest of the buildings and functions of the district depend on the district for operating funds.”
The decision to base operating payments to the Bowlus on space used by the district for student classes rather than actual operating costs, “triggered alarms in my mind,” Lynn said.
“If support for the Bowlus can be arbitrarily reduced by the administration and the board without relationship to the costs of operating the building and its programs, then there is nothing to prevent further reductions and eventual abandonment of the Bowlus by the district,” he said.
“I do not see an alternative source of operating funds. It is unreasonable to expect the city or county governments to pick up that responsibility for a facility that was given to the school district to manage and support by Tom Bowlus.
“If the school district does not consider the Bowlus an integral part of its facilities; if it considers it a burden and looks for ways to escape responsibility for it rather than looking upon this wonderful building as an extraordinary asset that offers educational advantages very few other school districts in Kansas enjoy, then it would be foolish for me or any other citizen to make gifts to it,” Lynn said.
His observations were not meant to be a threat, Lynn added.
“I am only opening up my thinking to you because I believe that others who appreciate how much the Bowlus Fine Arts Center has enriched Iola will also be hesitant to continue their support if it becomes apparent that the school district may withdraw its operating funds and allow it to decline and ultimately close.”
He told board members, who are also trustees of the Bowlus, that how they looked upon the Bowlus and dealt with its needs would determine to “a very large extent how the people of the district respond to those needs and help fulfill its promise.”
IN A RELATED matter, Julie Tidd, director of the Iola Municipal Band, left board members with information about the acoustical needs of a band room, “now that you have decided to move middle school band out of the Bowlus into a former technology lab.”
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