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Archive for Friday, November 15, 2002

Consolidation critic changes perspective

November 15, 2002

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One of Lawrence's most relentless critics of elementary school consolidation Thursday reversed course by endorsing closure of East Heights School.

Vicki Scott, an East Heights parent and a special-education paraprofessional at the school, used the last of six public forums on the district's facilities planning study to disclose her change of heart.

"East Heights is willing to be consolidated with New York," she said. "We want to work with the board to make that a positive thing for all of our kids."

Speaking for some but not all parents of children at the East Lawrence school, Scott said it would be in the best interests of the 148 students at East Heights to embrace a merger with New York School and to campaign for a bond issue that would pay for improvements at New York to accommodate a larger enrollment. The combined school would have about 270 students.

Scott had spoken at numerous other district meetings against consolidation of East Heights.

She came to this forum at West Junior High School directly from the East Heights site council's emotional meeting with Supt. Randy Weseman and board president Scott Morgan.

"It had to be incredibly difficult," Morgan said of Scott's public inversion. "It's one of the most impressive things I've seen anyone do in this whole facility study."

On Monday, the board will attempt to settle on contents of what could be a $60 million bond issue for school construction and renovation. It's part of the board's yearlong effort to craft a 20-year facility master plan.






What's nextThe Lawrence school board's facility planning effort is about to move from theoretical to actual.On Monday night, the board is expected to vote on a 20-year facility master plan and decide contents of a bond issue that would pay for school construction.The bond issue is expected to be about $60 million and would be put to a public vote in April.Upgrades to elementary, junior high and high school buildings would be accompanied by closure of East Heights, Riverside and Centennial schools.

The board has earmarked Riverside, Centennial and East Heights schools for closure. There's a possibility East Heights will be renovated to hold the district's preschool programs.

Weseman said the steep emotional toll of school closures shouldn't be minimized by anyone.

"I understand," the superintendent said. "If we can come together, with the caring people we have at New York and East Heights, we can create a caring school."

He said budget problems in the Lawrence district would make it difficult to maintain current levels of student services without elementary consolidation. The district's consultant, DLR Group of Overland Park, estimated $1.3 million in annual operational savings would result from closing the three schools. Concentrating financial resources in just 15 schools is the best way to provide elementary students with academic services they need, Weseman said.

If the board can't find operational savings in facilities, he said, deep cuts in cherished programs will be required.

"Are we going to be talking about cutting sixth-grade band? Sophomore sports?" Weseman said.



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