Archive for Thursday, October 24, 2002

Public weighs in on school plans

First of six forums on building proposals draws 20 community members

October 24, 2002


Lawrence High School graduate Joe Patterson has supported public school bond issues in Lawrence for nearly half a century.

But his string may end soon.

During a public forum Wednesday at district headquarters, Patterson said he wasn't comfortable with the school board's apparent willingness to spend at least $50 million on school construction and renovation while shutting down three elementary schools.

The emphasis on bricks-and-mortar is misplaced, he said.

"I have yet to see a building educate a child in Lawrence. It's the teachers in that building," said the 1954 LHS graduate.

The board is expected to complete an outline of the bond issue in November. It wouldn't be put before voters until 2003.

Patterson was joined by about 20 community members at the first of six open meetings designed to gather input on tentative plans to reshape the district's collection of school buildings.

Eight people spoke at the meeting, which didn't last the allotted two hours.

Scott Morgan, board president, said he wasn't disappointed by the turnout. He was there with board colleagues Mary Loveland and Sue Morgan.

"We've got a long way to go on this," Scott Morgan said. "Send e-mails. That is a good way to contact all of us."

The next session is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Central Junior High School, 1400 Mass.

Missy Allen, a parent of children at Riverside School, said there were alternatives to the plan endorsed by the board to close Riverside, East Heights and Centennial schools.

"Closing any school, I believe, is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," she said.

She asked the board to offer evidence of community support for consolidation of the district's 18 elementary schools.

In an interview, Scott Morgan said there were people in the community that had spoken privately in support of closures.

"I get told, 'I want schools closed,'" he said.

Vicki Scott, speaking against closure of East Heights, said she was puzzled by board discussion about turning the school into an early-childhood education center. East Heights will have to be renovated to accommodate preschool children, she said.

"If you're going to close us to make us something else, I feel that is unfair to the kids that are there," she said.

Wendy Mielke, who has two children in district schools, said she was disturbed by talk of constructing a $9.9 million building for alternative education programs for students in junior high and high school. She also didn't approve of spending $722,000 for renovation at Free State High School.

"It is time to upgrade the elementary schools and let the other schools wait," she said.

Allen of Lawrence said the school board and city commission ought to work in harmony to strengthen established neighborhoods. Closing schools in the city's core and allowing development on the city's perimeter hurts that cause, he said.

"If you close any schools, you weaken the neighborhoods. If you weaken neighborhoods, you weaken the city. If you weaken the city, what have you achieved?" he said.

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