The Lawrence school board at a special meeting Monday approved putting a bond issue on the November ballot.
A divided Lawrence school board on Monday agreed to ask district voters in November to approve a multimillion-dollar bond issue that would help ease elementary school overcrowding -- and close a rural Lawrence grade school.
The bond issue carries with it six main objectives and an estimated $16.6 million price tag.
``Maybe what we can do is see if there's some common ground,'' Supt. Al Azinger said told board members at the start of the special meeting. ``It seems like we often start out on uncommon ground and I'd like each of you to take a few minutes to think of things you could support.''
When board members threw ideas on the table, they agreed unanimously or by an overwhelming majority on five issues, all of which will be part of the bond referendum:
- The construction of a three-section (three classes per grade) elementary school on land currently owned by the district west of Wakarusa Drive. Estimated cost: $6 million.
- The addition of a third section at Prairie Park School, 2711 Kensington. Estimated cost: $2.5 million.
- Construction of approximately 50,000 square feet of warehouse space. Estimated cost: $2.5 million along with another $600,000 for maintenance construction.
- Upgrading windows and some building roofs throughout the district to make them more energy efficient. Estimated cost: $3 million.
- Construction on Pinckney School, 810 W. Sixth, to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the installation of elevators for students in wheelchairs. Estimated cost: $1 million.
The sixth, and most divisive issue, made it into the package, but only by the narrowest of margins:
- Remodeling of Woodlawn School, 508 Elm, in order to merge Grant School students into the North Lawrence building. In effect, the move closes Grant.
Board members Austin Turney, James Hilliard and Kerry Altenbernd voted to strike the closing from the bond issue but were outnumbered 4-3 by Leni Salkind, Maley Wilkins, Mary Loveland and Carol Linhos.
Because of the Grant closing language, Turney, Hilliard and Altenbernd also voted not to support the entire bond package. The measure passed by a 4-3 vote.
``I do not believe in coercing part of the community without them being consulted,'' Turney said after the vote.
Salkind defended the move, saying the community has to make tough decisions to make progress.
``The community needs to come to grips with and realize that we need to make decisions and move on,'' she said. ``We have to face up to the fact that is doesn't make sense to fund buildings when we could use that money to fund programs for students. They would still have a really small school.''
There are currently 160 students enrolled at Woodlawn and 80 enrolled at Grant. The merger would raise Woodlawn's population to 240, still below other enrollments within the district.
Wilkins, who along with Salkind drafted most of the proposed bond issue, read a prepared statement regarding the closing.
``I believe that the remodeling of Woodlawn Elementary School will enhance the Grant students' education by providing staffing choices, increased library media services and increased curriculum flexibility, and a full-time, on-site administrator,'' she said. ``I believe that not only are these essential services, but (they are) services provided to the other students we serve.''
Christopher Bay, who teaches third and fourth grades at Grant, said Monday night that he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision to put the merger on the ballot.
``They've been trying to close it for years,'' he said. ``I strongly support new schools in west Lawrence. However, schools like Grant serve a definite need and a definite purpose. There are educational transfers who have difficulty in other schools and come to Grant and do well.''
Bay said he's concerned that the board may be caught up in formulaic thinking.
``If something works for a community, why change it?'' he said.
Turney, who walked away from the meeting unsatisfied, said he would have supported the bond issue if the Grant closure was not part of the package.
``I'm uncertain what will happen (in November),'' he said.
Azinger cautioned that the figures for the bond issue are estimates at this point and will have to be reviewed before exact numbers can be tallied.
The board adjourned, with the understanding that Azinger and Asst. Supt. Craig Fiegel would bring updates on the proposal to the board's next regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. June 29.
Also Monday, the board met in executive session to discuss candidates for the soon-to-be vacant superintendent's post. Last week, the board and its consultant identified six candidates from a pool of applicants to meet with before deciding on a group of finalists. After the closed-door session Monday, Loveland said that one of the six had taken a job elsewhere and withdrawn.
The board wants to name a replacement for Azinger, who is taking a post at Illinois State University, around July 1.
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.