Archive for Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Facilities study details big changes

July 24, 2002

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The Lawrence school board on Tuesday studied a facilities plan that could alter the district landscape.

Board members met at district headquarters with representatives of the DLR Group, an Overland Park consulting firm, to review the firm's analysis of 25 school buildings.

All of the elementary and junior high school's shortcomings would cost $91.2 million to perfect, the report said, and the board offered DLR staff direction in developing a plan to improve facilities.

The goal is a multimillion-dollar bond issue for voters to approve.

Consensus breakdown

Here are the key points of board consensus Tuesday:

Explore pairing underutilized East Lawrence elementary schools in a K-3 and 4-6 grade format as an alternative to closing schools. Board member Mary Loveland strongly objected to this idea.

Don't exclude plans to build new elementary schools anywhere in the district. "We have to apply logic to where kids are," board member Austin Turney said.

The impact on students must be the No. 1 consideration for elementary consolidation. School operating costs, school construction costs and neighborhood politics take a back seat to children.

Elementary school boundaries will be revised, and it's possible student transfer rules will be tightened.

Options for replacing South Junior High School and constructing a fifth junior high are high priorities.

Stick with assumptions that each elementary school should have at least two classes at each grade level and ideally have no more than 17 students in K-3 grade classes and no more than 24 children in 4-6 grade classes.

John Fuller of the consulting firm said the board would receive recommendations from DLR Group for dealing with elementary school and junior high school issues at the next study session Aug. 5.

In addition, the board will get its first look at a summary of needs at the district's high schools.

Education equity key

Throughout the televised public meeting, board members repeated their intent to ensure all 10,000 children in the district have equal access to a quality education.

"We need to bring equity to that equation," board president Scott Morgan said. "We don't have that now."

At issue is the underutilization of elementary schools clustered on the east side of Lawrence and overcrowding in schools on the west side where population is growing. In addition, three of the district's four junior high schools are essentially full.

Neighborhood advocates are worried that closing elementary schools will hurt the quality of life in older areas of the city. They've urged the board not to build new schools until all the existing ones are full.

"I was also surprised to hear the members of the school board dismiss the concerns the neighborhoods," said Arly Allen, a member of the Centennial Neighborhood Assn. "The closure of central city schools will destroy the existing neighborhoods."

He said it would be a bitter irony if taxpayers living next to closed elementary schools helped pay for a bond issue to finance school construction elsewhere.

DLR Group executive Jim French said it was possible the board could consolidate two old elementary schools in East Lawrence into a new, state-of-the-art school nearby.

He also said DLR Group was operating on the assumption that preschool programs scattered throughout the district would be consolidated. An elementary school no longer needed for its original purpose could be host to those youngsters.

Morgan said extensive public debate on the future of school facilities would occur before the board put a bond issue to voters, possibly in November.

DLR Group's compensation for conducting this facilities study is contingent on approval of a bond issue at the ballot box.

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