Lawrence school board member Jack Davidson says the plan to consolidate elementary schools and pass a $59 million bond issue for school construction is provoking class conflict.
"It's dividing the town big-time," Davidson said in an interview. "There is an east-west division based on class."
Davidson, who isn't running for re-election, was the only board member to vote against the bond and school closures.
Board President Scott Morgan said Davidson was wrong that the six board members who voted for the bond and closures were pitting rich against poor.
"It was outrageous to be so desperate as to introduce something as odd as class warfare into what is a school board's simple effort to try to do what is best for the 10,000 kids in our community," Morgan said.
Morgan voted for the bond and consolidation and is a candidate for a second term on the board.
Thirteen people filed to run for Lawrence school board. A Feb. 25 primary will narrow the field to eight. On April 1, voters will elect four board members and decide the fate of the bond proposal.
Affluent vs. low income?
Davidson said the school bond plan would double the district's facilities debt. That's an irresponsible burden to place on low-income families already staggered by a weak economy, he said.
"You're talking about a lot of money," Davidson said.
If the bond issue is approved, the owner of a home with an assessed valuation of $100,000 would see the annual property taxes for school facilities rise about $68. The $59 million bond would be paid off during a 20-year period.
Davidson said many of the city's less-affluent residents live in east and central Lawrence neighborhoods with elementary schools targeted by the board for closure.
The board will shut down Riverside School in May, and it already has earmarked Centennial and East Heights schools for closure later.
Davidson also said the group assembled to build support for the bond was composed of well-to-do community members. The co-chairs of Vote Yes for Lawrence Kids are a banker and an official at the Kansas University Endowment Association.
But Vote Yes steering committee members John Mitchell and Karen Frick said the bond projects would strengthen public education throughout Lawrence.
'Right for the community'
"This isn't about the east side or west side or north Lawrence and south Lawrence," said Mitchell, a site council member at Quail Run School. "It's about what is right for the community as a whole."
Frick, who is on the site council at South Junior High School, said the bond proposal includes $3.3 million to turn New York School -- on the city's east side -- into a state-of-the-art school capable of serving the merged New York and East Heights students.
Meanwhile, $4.6 million would be spent to upgrade Cordley School -- in a central Lawrence neighborhood -- for use by the Cordley and Centennial students.
"We will be revitalizing our east and central part of Lawrence," Frick said. "It will create great opportunities, not only for our children but for our town."
Under the board's $59 million bond plan, $43 million is to be spent at schools located east of Iowa Street. The remaining $16 million would be spent to improve schools west of Iowa Street.
The bonds would finance replacement of South Junior High School; expansion of Lawrence Alternative High School, New York and Cordley schools; renovation of Lawrence High School; and improvements at seven other elementary schools.
Lawrence retiree Arly Allen, who has been playing an active role in anti-bond efforts, said it was a mistake to advance a bond plan that closed schools in older parts of the city.
In a few years, he said, the school board probably will go back to voters with a proposal to build new schools on the perimeter of Lawrence.
That would promote creation of a doughnut-shaped residential map in Lawrence, as more and more people move to the edge of the city and schools are built to accommodate that population shift, he said.
"If we grow in a way that strengthens the outer edges of the city, while leaving the center of the city in a deteriorating state, the city as a whole suffers. It can't live that way."