Archive for Tuesday, November 12, 2002

April election will decide bond, board

November 12, 2002


The Lawrence school board Monday pressed ahead with plans to seek voter approval in April for a bond issue of about $60 million for school construction and closure of three elementary schools.

"That's what we're doing," Scott Morgan, board president, confirmed after a three-hour study session on facilities issues.

The controversial package will be on the same ballot voters use to elect four board members, who could create a new majority on the board that reverses many of their decisions.

Supt. Randy Weseman said the seven board members should be proud they dealt with unpleasant decisions certain to rile some district patrons.

"This is my definition of a messy world," Weseman said.

It was acknowledgment of the complexity of creating a 20-year facility master plan - the district doesn't have one - at the same time decisions are made on spending millions of dollars on school construction from a bond issue while taking action to close some of the district's 18 elementary schools.

This study session was a preview of the board's meeting next Monday, when they'll attempt to finalize details and cost of the bond issue.

Without taking formal votes, board members affirmed their intent to phase out Riverside, East Heights and Centennial as elementary schools. There was discussion of closing Cordley instead of Centennial, but a coalition led by board member and Cordley alumnus Austin Turney didn't budge.

"I see no reason to spend a lot of time going back to Centennial," Turney said.

The transfer destination of 450 students attending those three schools wasn't settled. At this point, Centennial students could go to an enlarged Cordley. East Heights children might be divided between Kennedy School and a renovated New York School. Riverside's children could be sent to Pinckney, Langston Hughes or Woodlawn schools.

The Lawrence school board will conduct two more public forums on a study of Lawrence school facilities.¢ 6 p.m.-8 p.m. today at Southwest Junior High School, 2511 Inverness Drive.¢ 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday at West Junior High School, 2700 Harvard Road.

Use of closed elementary schools will vary. Land at Centennial might be converted to soccer and baseball practice fields for Lawrence High School. East Heights could become home to consolidated early-childhood and adult education programs. The Lawrence Boys and Girls Club might share use of East Heights.

Weseman said the district wouldn't have trouble selling Riverside and the adult education building at 1919 Del.

Depending on severity of the future budget crunch, Riverside might have to be shut down as early as May.

Board member Sue Morgan said savings from closing Riverside could be used next year to hire teachers needed to keep student class sizes at reasonable levels.

East Heights and Centennial would need to remain in business for at least a couple years, because students would need a place to go to school during renovation of New York and Cordley.

Lawrence Alternative High School will be expanded, but the cost may be trimmed below $9 million. Board members Scott Morgan and Mary Loveland sought a price tag closer to $6 million.

"I don't know that it's wise to scale back too far," cautioned board member Leni Salkind.

The alternative school is based in a small building and portable trailers at Holcom Park. There's no library, cafeteria, gym or clinic. Administrative, counseling and art class spaces are tiny. At the expanded alternative high school, designers expect to allow enrollment to grow to about 300 students and to include ninth-graders for the first time.

"To me, that's the most important thing we have to do," said board member Jack Davidson. But, he said, "it's going to be a hard sell."

In a later bond issue, years down the line, Weseman said the district should consider adding specialized vocational programs to the alternative high school campus. It should be more of an educational academy, he said.

Unquestioned at this study session were plans to spend $22 million replacing South Junior High School and modifying Broken Arrow School. In that redesign, buildings would be side-by-side and share infrastructure as do Southwest Junior High School and Sunflower School.

The board is sticking with plans to spend up to $10 million renovating Lawrence High School.

Scott Morgan said the goal of replacing portable classroom trailers with brick-and-mortar additions to district schools was still in the cards, but there's no consensus how much should be spent on that effort.

He said Southwest officials are eager to get rid of them, but West and Central junior high administrators think there are other higher priorities at those schools.

Replacement of trailers at elementary schools may have to wait for a second bond issue, Scott Morgan said.

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