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Archive for Sunday, June 28, 1998

KEY SCHOOL DECISIONS

June 28, 1998

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— an important bond issue and the hiring of a new school superintendent -- will have a huge impact on the future of the Lawrence school district.

The Lawrence school board is facing two decisions that will have a long-term impact on local schools.

Both require quick and decisive action by board members who then will be responsible for taking the lead in building community support for those actions.

At their meeting Monday night, board members are expected to take another look at a bond issue proposal they approved on a 4-3 vote on June 15. As approved, the proposal calls for important district improvements: a new elementary school west of Wakarusa Drive, expansion of Prairie Park School, improvements to make Pinckney School accessible to people with handicaps, additional warehouse space for the district and several projects to improve energy efficiency at district buildings.

To help offset the cost of operating an additional elementary school, those proposing the bond issue also included improvements to Woodlawn School that would prepare it to accept students from Grant School, which would be closed.

Although the Woodlawn/Grant proposal may be justified from a financial point of view, the board has received considerable feedback that the plan's inclusion might damage the bond issue's chances of being approved. Even if the eventual closing of Grant School is justified, it is not likely to be a popular addition to the bond issue. It already has cost the proposal the support of three school board members.

School board members need to look at their proposal again and see if they can reach unanimous or near-unanimous agreement on a bond issue. If removing the Grant/Woodlawn proposal from the issue will produce a plan the entire school board can support, that is the plan that should be presented to voters.

The other matter school board members currently are addressing could be even more important to the school district's overall future. That is the hiring of a new school superintendent. Two finalists for the job visited Lawrence last week and met with community members, the school board, school district staff and parents. In sessions with community, business and Kansas University leaders, the finalists displayed different strengths and styles, but both seemed to be strong candidates.

Gene Amberg of Urbana, Ill., withdrew from consideration late last week, and the Lawrence board is pursuing contract negotiations with its first choice for the job, Kathleen Williams of Schaumburg, Ill.

As with the bond issue, the decision on who to hire as the new superintendent would be far stronger and more positive for the community if it could be made on a unanimous vote of the board. Comments from some individual board members indicate Williams has strong support among board members. If she takes the Lawrence job, that support will serve her well as she starts her duties here.

Williams seemed during interviews to be a strong communicator who was not afraid to use innovative approaches to solve school problems. Those talents would be valuable to the Lawrence district and its students. Hopefully the board can quickly complete negotiations with Williams and give her as much time as possible to help the district get ready for the upcoming school year.

Communication and consensus-building were two qualities often mentioned as desirable for a new Lawrence school superintendent. School board members also should exhibit those qualities as they make final decisions on hiring a superintendent and deciding what bond issue proposal to put before Lawrence voters.

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