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Archive for Saturday, September 29, 1990

SATURDAY COLUMN

September 29, 1990

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What is more important, the overall size (enrollment) of a school or the size (numbers of students) in the classrooms of the school? Is bigger better in education, or are there many strong, positive advantages of smaller schools?

During the next six weeks, Lawrence voters are likely to be subjected to many arguments as to why they should vote for or against a $31 million bond issue to build a new high school on the western edge of the city. Proponents for each side of the issue are well-intentioned and sincere in their beliefs, and Lawrence voters will have to try to sift out the relevant facts and what they consider to be the most important facets of the school proposal.

THERE ARE some situations that most every interested person will agree upon: Lawrence is a growing city and unless the world goes to pot and unless Lawrence city government leaders adopt an even more repressive, negative attitude toward growth, the city will continue to grow.

Greater population usually means more students. The city is growing west and southwest. Several grade schools that were planned to meet enrollment needs for approximately 10 years already are filled and there are sure to be other situations that would be accepted by spokesmen for and against the bond issue as being accurate, fair appraisals of the school question.

However, there are many disagreements relative to the school bond question and hopefully many of these can and will be answered before voters cast their ballots on Nov. 6.

SOME OF these questions are:

Why can't the present Lawrence High School be expanded with money saved by not building a second high school going toward more classrooms, better-paid teachers, a larger library, better and more laboratory equipment?

Is one bigger, truly superior high school better or worse than two smaller high schools?

What would two high schools do to community pride and cohesiveness?

What would be the added expense of building another football field and stadium if Haskell officials decide they cannot accommodate two high schools playing games at Haskell stadium?

Is it true some in the school system are concerned about this possibility and have contacted Kansas University athletic officials about installing lights at KU's Memorial Stadium for high school night games?

Is it essential to have duplicated facilities at both high schools in order to provide equal teaching-learning opportunities at each school?

Do Lawrence voters have a firm idea as to the cost of a two-high school system? Have all costs, immediate and near-future, been included in the price tag being presented to local voters? What about the cost of busing students to the school and the staffing and operation of the school?

HOW MUCH weight should be attached to the argument that a single large school with several thousands of students presents a difficult, challenging situation for students who want to become members of school organizations with limited memberships? For example, would more students be able to participate in debate, the yearbook, athletics, cheerleading and other similar school activities, organizations and groups if there were two high schools?

Is there reason to believe that some in Lawrence are anxious to have two, smaller high schools because they themselves graduated from much smaller schools? Would it be reasonable to suggest a majority of Lawrence voters were graduates of schools substantially smaller than Lawrence High School and that they favor the smaller schools?

What do school administrators really think about the bond issue and the two-high school approach? Is it true, as some suggest, that many in the school system have been "encouraged'' not to speak out against the two-high school plan?

Some claim Lawrence High School cannot accommodate more students. In 1977, Lawrence High School had approximately 2,000 students, more than are attending high school today.

Could many more students be accommodated at the school by better use and utilization of the so-called "zero'' hour, which begins shortly after 7 a.m., and how about classes at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. rather than having classes end at 3?

What changed the mind of Lawrence school Supt. Dan Neuenswander relative to two high schools in Lawrence? He is reported to have said he was opposed to the two-high school plan as recently as last year.

What happens to the local tax rate when and if, and it is likely to happen sooner rather than later, the local school district loses its current level of state tax support?

There are many other questions, such as the proper or best combination of classes, i.e., the current model of a senior high with grades 10, 11 and 12 with the junior highs composed of grades 7, 8 and 9 versus a high school with grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 with "junior highs'' of grades 7 and 8, or a high school of grades 11 and 12, a middle school composed of grades 9 and 10 and junior highs of grades 7 and 8.

What is best for the students, what is best for teachers and what is best for taxpayers?

THE QUESTIONS raised should not be considered as being for or against the upcoming bond issue referendum but rather as examples of the many uncertainties local citizens have about the school situation. A good number of local residents don't know whom to believe. They want a good school system, they think Lawrence has had a good school system in past years, they are worried about two schools splitting the community and taking away some of the pride and glue which hold the city together. They worry about costs, they wonder if some school administrators and teachers have been muzzled, and they wonder why the current high school could not be made larger and/or better utilized.

So far, the answers have not been clear on a number of these matters and, hopefully, there will be some sound, straight-forward and honest answers before election day.

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