If the Lawrence school board wants voters to agree to issue bonds for local school improvements the first step is for board members themselves to reach agreement on what should be done.
The introduction of two new plans to seek bond issues to improve local schools may help break the deadlock that has plagued the Lawrence school board.
Or it might make the situation worse.
Board members, as well as district patrons, should do their best to try to accomplish the former.
Board members Maley Wilkins and Leni Salkind presented a moderate and straight-forward plan to the board on Monday. It calls for a $9 million bond issue and includes the three main components that most board members and local residents have been able to agree are needed: a new elementary school west of Wakarusa Drive on land already owned by the district; the expansion of Prairie Park School in southeast Lawrence to accommodate three classes instead of the current two at each grade level and the purchase of land for district warehouse space.
The plan includes no school closings or controversial items. It may not address all the needs of the district, but it seeks a moderate bond issue to address the most pressing needs.
Immediately after Wilkins and Salkind put the $9 million bond issue on the table, Board members Austin Turney and James Hilliard also presented a pared-down version of a $48 million facilities plan they floated several months ago. The new proposal calls for a bond issue of $36 million and includes the three elements of the Wilkins-Salkind plan, although the new western school would be build initially to accommodate only two classrooms at each grade level, rather than three.
The Turney-Hilliard plan, however, includes construction projects at New York, East Heights, Grant, Pinckney, Hillcrest, Sunset Hill and Schwegler elementary schools, new gym facilities at Southwest and South junior high schools, renovation of the Lawrence High School gym and vocational areas and smaller projects at the rest of the city's secondary schools. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the more expensive plan is the provision for combining Cordley and Centennial elementary schools and remodeling whichever building is vacated for use as an administration center. No other school closings or consolidations are included in the plan.
The plan presented by Wilkins and Salkind doesn't ignore the problems of underutilized schools in the district, but it is careful to separate them from the basic need for a bond issue. Along with the bond issue proposal, the two board members also note the need to continue to discuss consolidation of Cordley and Centennial schools as well as initiating discussions about how to deal with declining enrollments in the East Heights, New York and Kennedy attendance areas. Similar discussions also would take place between Pinckney and Riverside schools, and the shortage of space in junior high schools would still have to be addressed. Hopefully, all these discussions would involve -- or better yet, be led by -- teachers and parents of students in those schools. Even if it takes longer, any consolidation of those schools will be far more successful if it is the product of some sort of consensus of the people most affected.
Consensus also is the key to the success of any school bond issue. If school board members hope to gain approval of a bond issue of any size, they must break down the barriers that currently divide the board. The $9 million bond proposal addresses basic needs and would seem likely to garner broad support. If the board wants to add certain items onto that bond total, voters may accept that, but only if board members can present such a proposal with united -- hopefully unanimous -- support.
The plans are on the table. If the board hopes to seek a bond issue in November they must act quickly. Working together to seek some middle ground will make the process run much more smoothly.