Archive for Thursday, June 18, 1998

BOND ISSUE SPLITS BOARDCOMMUNITY

June 18, 1998

Advertisement

Community and board members have mixed emotions on the proposed school bond issue.

Two days after the Lawrence school board voted 4-3 to place an estimated $16.6 million bond issue on the November ballot, its members remained divided in their support for the plan.

Board members Kerry Altenbernd, James Hilliard and Austin Turney voted against the proposed bond issue, citing a provision that, in effect, closes Grant School. Members Leni Salkind, Maley Wilkins, Carol Linhos and Board President Mary Loveland cast votes in favor of it.

``My real disappointment is that the Grant closing is included,'' Altenbernd said. ``In my personal opinion, it makes passing it very iffy.''

Altenbernd said he would have supported a bond issue that did not include the Grant closing. The cornerstones of the issue are a new, $6 million elementary school west of Wakarusa Drive and a $2.5 million addition to Prairie Park School on the city's southeast side.

``To me it's not so much a vote on a new school as it is closing schools, and that clouds the issue,'' he said.

Outvoted, Altenbernd said he has two choices: He can either express opposition to the bond issue or support it.

``I haven't decided what I'll be doing,'' he said. ``I'm not likely to change my mind and support it.''

Turney said he will wait to get community reaction before deciding to support or oppose the bond issue as it now stands.

``If the bond issue should be defeated, then the board would have to turn around and repropose a bond issue with that (Grant closing) issue taken out,'' he said. ``I'm not making any predictions.''

Hilliard said he remains adamantly opposed to the plan because of the stipulation to close Grant.

``I would have signed on wholeheartedly'' to the plan if a compromise could have been achieved that did not include the Grant closing, he said.

A grass-roots effort exploring a merger between Cordley and Centennial schools essentially has been brushed aside by the board in favor of the Grant-Woodlawn merger, he said.

``We solicited input, then ignored it,'' Hilliard said.

On the other side of the coin, Linhos expressed complete support for the plan.

``We need a (new) school on the west side desperately,'' she said. ``I believe in being fiscally responsible, and I'm looking for ways to budget. I'm not interested in looking into cutting programs for any students.''

Proponents and opponents

Neither is Grant first- and second-grade teacher Jan Dicker. A teacher at the rural Lawrence school for 13 years, Dicker said she was ``shocked and disappointed'' by the decision to include the closing in the bond issue.

``I'm saddened by what has occurred,'' she said. ``In a small school there are positives and negatives on both sides, but I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.''

Dicker said she supports building a new school on the city's west side, but not at the expense of existing schools.

``It's a shame to throw a controversy into a bond issue that so desperately needs to pass,'' she said. ``The plan sounded so optimistic without this.''

Perhaps no one is caught in the middle more than Grant Principal Paulette Strong. She also doubles as principal for Woodlawn School, where Grant students would be sent under the proposal.

``There are definite strengths to each of the schools and also common strengths,'' she said. ``I think if the two schools were to merge that we would have an extremely significant school in Lawrence.''

Proponents of the merger have said that students at both schools would benefit from the presence of full-time staff members. In addition to Strong, the two schools also share a special education teacher and a kindergarten class. Grant does not offer a kindergarten program. Grant also shares art, music, physical education and resource personnel with other schools in the district.

``Whenever you have full-time staff, students benefit,'' Strong said. ``It becomes more efficient and effective, but we're going to do the best job to make sure the students are learning at both schools.''

Marylee Southard, who chaired a district committee that studied elementary school overcrowding and school boundaries, said she understands how parents and others in the Grant community feel, but thinks the closing may be necessary.

``It's responsible fiscally,'' she said. ``But is it responsible for parents of children affected? I don't know. Looking at the money involved, this is the wise thing to do. There's no comparison to this and what's going on at Quail Run. I would take the tough road and merge those two schools (Grant and Woodlawn) if I had to choose, which I'm glad I don't.''

Parents caught in the middle

For parents at overcrowded schools, including Prairie Park, Quail Run and Sunflower, the issue is easier to swallow.

Marci Toalson's children attend Quail Run and would most likely be transferred to the new school on the west side.

``I absolutely will vote in favor of it,'' she said of the bond issue. ``If closing Grant is the only way to come up with funding for a new school, I leave it to the wisdom of the school board.''

Toalson said she was comfortable with the $16.6 million price tag the bond issue carries.

Anything is better than cross-town busing, Toalson said.

``This could be a very positive thing for the kids at Grant,'' she said. ``This is closing a school for 80 kids. More than 80 were moved out of neighborhood schools this year.''

Funds for the bond issue will come from the sale of bonds and will increase the mill levy, Asst. Supt. Craig Fiegel said. Just how much of an increase is not yet known.

Fiegel said he expects administrators to have mill levy estimates available at the next board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. June 29 at the district service center, 3705 Clinton Pkwy.

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is jwatson@ljworld.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.