Archive for Tuesday, October 1, 2002

97 to keep neighborhood schools open

October 1, 2002


They campaigned saying they would stand firm against closing Lawrence schools.

And Leni Salkind and Austin Turney, elected to the Lawrence school board in 1997 with the backing of a save-the-schools coalition, said Monday they still believed in neighborhood schools.

But both say circumstances in the district now are much different, and they're willing to consider consolidation.

"It's been a slow change," said Turney, who lives in east Lawrence at 1501 Pa. "What I'm saying to people now  is I campaigned for neighborhood schools. I'm still for neighborhood schools, but I'm not for every school in every circumstance."

Said Salkind: "Nobody wants to close schools. We're trying to solve problems. We just can't keep putting this issue off."

The board's facility consultants have offered a range of options to deal with low-enrollment schools on the city's east side and burgeoning schools on the west side where new residential development is concentrating.

Given seven options, the board recently agreed to examine proposals that would close Centennial and Riverside schools and either New York or East Heights schools. Board members said they were also interested in hearing more about the possibility of demolishing and rebuilding South Junior High School and closing Central Junior High School. Improvements to all other district schools are under consideration.

A different landscape

Turney and Salkind said in interviews that the district's financial and demographic landscape had dramatically changed since they questioned consolidation of Lawrence schools on the campaign trail.

The district's budget is strained by spending cuts ordered by Gov. Bill Graves that have resulted in a district hiring freeze. More cuts could come from Topeka before the 2002-2003 school year ends.

Lawrence enrollment is down for the third year in a row, with much of the decline in elementary schools.

In addition, a nearly completed facilities study by DLR Group of Overland Park indicates Lawrence schools are in need of millions of dollars in upgrades to bring equity of academic opportunity to the buildings.

Back in 1997, there was no facilities study shaping the closure debate. Enrollment was going up, and that annually pumped more money into the district's coffers.

"I think the situation was different then," Salkind said. "I was not elected to stand my ground without taking into consideration new information."

She also said instructional issues in tiny Lawrence schools with only one classroom at each grade were a growing concern.

Closure pressure

"We do see problems in smaller schools in terms of services we can offer, in terms of staff," she said. "I believe in neighborhood schools. I never agreed to have a neighborhood school every five blocks."

Salkind, who lives in Old West Lawrence at 734 Ind., said she hadn't made up her mind about which schools ought to be closed.

"Some of what I hear from parents will make a difference," she said. "We need to think real hard about what we're doing."

Turney said he believes there was ample evidence to show the district could no longer justify maintaining a cluster of four elementary schools  Cordley, Centennial, Schwegler and Broken Arrow  on the east side of Lawrence while district enrollment drops more than 100 students annually.

"I believe that there is no way that these schools can all exist so close together," he said.

He said closure of Riverside School, which has the district's smallest enrollment, will eventually occur. But that doesn't need to happen soon, he said.

"In time, there is going to have to be a change," he said. "The year after next might be an ambitious schedule."

Turney also said the idea of closing Central and sending those students to West Junior High School was "ludicrous."

Neither Turney or Salkind are up for re-election in 2003. Their terms expire in 2005.

The four board members who do face re-election in April 2003, should they decide to run, will inevitably be questioned about their views on consolidation and the facilities study. Those members are Scott Morgan, Jack Davidson, Sue Morgan and Mary Loveland. Most have signaled a willingness to consider consolidation.

The school board meets Wednesday to discuss DLR Group's options for improving the two high schools, relocating the alternative high school and enhancing the district's athletics facilities.

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