Archive for Thursday, January 9, 2003

Some question district’s rationale for bond election

Plan to close schools comes under criticism

January 9, 2003


Ed Tato doesn't understand Lawrence Schools Supt. Randy Weseman's math.

Tato, president of East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn., said Wednesday that he couldn't follow a formula that showed closing three elementary schools and spending $59 million to upgrade remaining school buildings equaled financial efficiency.

"We're going to spend money on bonds -- refurbish and consolidate," Tato said. "Supposedly that's going to be a savings?"

Voters go to the polls April 1 to decide whether to spend $59 million for improvements to 14 schools.

The district's campaign on behalf of the bond issue begins in earnest this month, and Tato is among many Lawrence residents with questions about school facilities plans.

Tuesday, Weseman spoke at a forum about the need for the bond issue and school consolidation. He said the spending was necessary if buildings for the district's 10,000 students were to be suitable in the coming 10 years.

Closing three of 18 elementary schools is overdue, Weseman said. Riverside School, 601 N. Iowa, shuts down in May. East Heights School, 1430 Haskell Ave., and Centennial School, 2145 La., eventually would be closed. East Heights students would go to an expanded New York School, and Centennial students to an expanded Cordley School.

Weseman said the district couldn't operate efficiently with seven elementary schools with less than 250 students each.

"I don't agree with that," said Ted Boyle of the North Lawrence Improvement Assn. "A new building does not directly affect the learning ability of a student. That comes with the teachers."

He said the district was acting without adequately exploring damage to neighborhoods caused by closing schools. Boundaries can be changed to increase enrollments at underutilized schools, he said.

"They could bus some of the Quail Run School students to East Heights or New York," Boyle said.

Joyce Wolf, president of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Assn., said she hadn't made up her mind yet about the bond issue.

She said she realized rising state and federal education mandates and falling state funding for schools put pressure on school boards to close schools and seek money for projects with a bond issue.

"Intellectually," she said, "I can understand why they think they need to close three. But emotionally, it really tears me apart."

More than $21 million from the bond issue would be used to rebuild South Junior High School and improve Broken Arrow School, which both serve students from the Indian Hills area.

Weseman says $43 million from the bond is earmarked for schools east of Iowa Street, where the district's older buildings are located.

"This bond issue is about protecting core schools for a long, long time," he said.

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