Archive for Friday, November 15, 2002

Consolidation critic changes perspective

November 15, 2002


One of LawrenceâÂÂs 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 districtâÂÂs facilities planning study to disclose her change of heart.

âÂÂEast Heights is willing to be consolidated with New York,â she said. âÂÂWe want to work with the board to make that a positive thing for all of our kids.âÂÂ

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 councilâÂÂs emotional meeting with Supt. Randy Weseman and board president Scott Morgan.

âÂÂIt had to be incredibly difficult,â Morgan said of ScottâÂÂs public inversion. âÂÂItâÂÂs one of the most impressive things IâÂÂve seen anyone do in this whole facility study.âÂÂ

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

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

Weseman said the steep emotional toll of school closures shouldnâÂÂt be minimized by anyone.

âÂÂI understand,â the superintendent said. âÂÂIf we can come together, with the caring people we have at New York and East Heights, we can create a caring school.âÂÂ

He said budget problems in the Lawrence district would make it difficult to maintain current levels of student services without elementary consolidation. The districtâÂÂs 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 canâÂÂt find operational savings in facilities, he said, deep cuts in cherished programs will be required.

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

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