Two dozen people insisted Wednesday that closure of public schools in Lawrence would be the death knell of blue-collar neighborhoods on the city's east side.
In voices strained by emotion and in words propelled by anxiety, they told representatives of the DLR Group facilities consulting firm that consolidating elementary schools and relocating junior high schools would be a dreadful mistake by the Lawrence school board.
Kirsten Roussel, 1305 Oak Hill Ave., said the existing schools stood at the core of neighborhoods.
"Nothing will kill them faster than taking the neighborhood school out," said Roussel, president of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Assn.
About 125 people came to school district headquarters to react to DLR Group's ideas for upgrading the district's stable of school buildings. Options now on the table include shutting down three of 18 elementary schools and replacing two of four junior high schools.
"This is not an engineering decision," said Jason Fizell, 1225 Del. "It's a neighborhood and community decision."
Alternatives submitted by DLR Group that have drawn interest from the school board include closure of Riverside and Centennial schools, shutting down either East Heights or New York school, and replacing South and Central junior high schools.
New schools would be built in areas with rapid residential growth.
East side 'abandonment'
"I find it very, very difficult as a taxpayer to say we can close some building on the east side so we can follow the developers," said Jeanne Klein, 824 Greever Terrace.
All schools on the hit list except Riverside are east of Iowa Street, suggesting that the board is prepared to "abandon" working-class neighborhoods in the oldest parts of Lawrence to bring schools closer to new, upscale housing developments on the city's west side, said Michael Pomes, 528 Kan.
"Might it be better to bus the students over to Eudora instead of west Lawrence?" he asked.
No one in the audience spoke in favor of school consolidation.
"I think that speaks for itself," said Scott Fullerton, 1409 Sundown Court.
Fullerton, who has a son at Riverside, said he had a petition signed by 150 people who believe Riverside should stay open.
While several members of the school board attended the meeting, none spoke publicly.
Preparing for a bond issue
The board will assemble Wednesday for a DLR Group presentation on options for improving high schools, relocating the alternative high school and dealing with athletic facility needs.
On Oct. 10, the board will attempt to hammer out a preliminary plan for reorganizing school facilities throughout the district. Decisions will be folded by DLR Group into a 20-year facility master plan. Elements of that document, including strategies for school consolidation and construction, will be part of a bond issue likely to go before voters in early 2003.
Options presented by the firm reflect baseline objectives school board members believe are essential to a well-operated school.
For example, conclusions about elementary schools were driven by the board's goal that all have a minimum of two classes at each grade level. The board also wants a student-to-teacher ratio of 17-to-1 in kindergarten through third grades and a ratio of 24-to-1 in fourth through sixth grades.
The idea of small class sizes was applauded by the audience, but the two-section school model was the target of criticism. Many of the district's smaller elementary schools aren't big enough to have two sections.
Jerry Schultz, 1945 Tenn., said there was no clear evidence that one-section schools were detrimental to a child's education.
"There is nothing convincing in anything that I've seen," he said. "A cookie-cutter approach probably isn't the best way to look at this."
DLR Group has conducted 48 information-gathering meetings and interviewed 185 district staff members. The firm also conducted site inspections of every school in the district before presenting its facility options to the board last week.