Lawrence school board history may repeat itself April 1.
A flashback to 1997 would reveal a school-closing and school-election scenario in some ways identical to that created by the current board.
Ã¢ÂÂIt does kind of appear things are coming full circle,Ã¢ÂÂ former board member James Hilliard said. Ã¢ÂÂI was pretty much aware that things were going to be like they are now before I left the board.Ã¢ÂÂ
In 1997, the boardÃ¢ÂÂs plans to close two schools were reversed by voters who elected new board members opposed to the closings.
Now, the board is preparing to close two elementary schools: East Heights, again, and Centennial, as part of a $59 million bond issue and consolidation plan.
Another voter rebellion could undercut re-election bids by four board members and set the stage for reversal of the planned closings.
In 1997, a save-the-schools coalition elected Leni Salkind, Austin Turney and James Hilliard to the board. Salkind and Turney still serve on the board. Hilliard, who completed a four-year term on the board in 2001, recalls those painful days.
Ã¢ÂÂThere was a sense of tension in the community,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂThe community had a strong position about the importance of neighborhood schools, but no one was listening to them.Ã¢ÂÂ
ThatÃ¢ÂÂs when the newly elected members decided to take a stand. Immediately after being elected in April, they went to then-Supt. Al Azinger and demanded the process of closing schools be stopped.
The reason, Hilliard said: the fear of what closing schools would do to the community.
Ã¢ÂÂLawrence is unique because the neighborhoods support the school,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂIf we were to close the schools then it would not only hurt the kids but also community.Ã¢ÂÂ
In turn, East Heights and Grant were allowed to stay open although the board -including Salkind and Turney - voted in 2001 to close Grant.
Ã¢ÂÂBack then we allowed Grant to stay open, but it continued to drop in population,Ã¢ÂÂ Salkind said. Ã¢ÂÂIt is not good for the children to go to a school with such a small population.Ã¢ÂÂ
Salkind said her vote to close Grant, and now two additional schools, does not mean she has different views than when she first campaigned.
Ã¢ÂÂI havenÃ¢ÂÂt changed,Ã¢ÂÂ she said. Ã¢ÂÂI would have made the same decision back then if I had to do it all over again. But now I am addressing the issues we have today. I look at the finances, and this time I am making a different decision.Ã¢ÂÂ
Hilliard said he was disappointed with Salkind and TurneyÃ¢ÂÂs calls to back school closures.
Ã¢ÂÂThe three of us campaigned together,Ã¢ÂÂ Hilliard said. Ã¢ÂÂOur campaign was that we would not close schools.Ã¢ÂÂ
Hilliard plans to campaign against the bond issue, which will go before voters in April.
Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt think the bond is the best for the city,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂThere has to be a better solution than just going in and closing schools.Ã¢ÂÂ