Welcome to our online chat with Lawrence school board incumbent Mary Loveland.The chat took place on Tuesday, March 25, at 6:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Welcome to today's chat with school board candidate Mary Loveland.
Robert: Good Evening Mary -
I'm submitting this question ahead of time, as I will be on my way to the airport, when you're chatting. I will read the chat later, however, so thank you for answering my question. I am concerned: allow me to explain why. My children attend at this time Centennial, and that is where I went to school. The building is great, the parents, and teachers are wonderful. I'm fearful, Mary, that amidst everything going on with the bond issue and school closures, that because competitively speaking, we can't compete with other districts salary wise, and because of the potential of overcrowding classrooms, my children aren't going to get the highest quality education possible. I'm fearful of that, and I feel as though a lot of parents are in that same boat. Please explain why I should vote FOR the bond issue on these two points alone. Thanks.
Mary Loveland: We anticipate a budget savings of $1.4 million in operational costs from the closing of three schools. The reason that we are trying to identify a $3-4 million dollar list of budget savings is to have dollars available for staff salaries to help us stay competitive with nearby districts in Kansas and Missouri. We also are still hoping to sustain the progress we have made in reducing class sizes in the primary grades. If we do not do the school consolidations, we are faced with the prospect of a dramatic increase in the number of combination classrooms. Our per grade curricula are very demanding and it is becoming more difficult to do a good job of offering two grades worth of curriculum in one classroom with one teacher. This is my take on your points.
Jeremy: Good Evening Mary: People against your campaign have said that you have been too edgy in attempting to close schools and offering that and no other alternative. Considering that your critics state this about you - if this bond issue is not passed, what steps could you take to rectify the financial situation of USD 497 without the closure of schools, and have you considered other alternatives to school closures going forward?
Mary Loveland: Hi. A number of adjectives have been used about me over the years, but edgy is a new one. The district, through its budget committee, and the school board are currently examining a list of 109 items that could be cut from the budget to produce the dollar figure in budget savings that we predict that we might need for next year's budget. This list was generated by central administration, special education, and the elementary and secondary principals. The list includes everything from instructional supplies to music courses, athletic programs, forensics and theater, library staff, etc. etc. Without the closing of the 3 schools, we will have to go deeper and deeper into that list. We are in the process of trying to prioritize those cuts at this point. So I think that we have considered other alternatives besides the closing of schools, but those cuts are not popular either. Last year when we looked at the elimination of instrumental music during 6th grade we had more people in attendance to object than we have had at the facility-related meetings. It is quite a challenge to preserve the educational program that this community has come to expect in the context of the legislature's educational funding decisions.
Concerned Parent: Mary,
How large an area will the new combined schools cover. I mean are they huge? Are they still neighborhood schools like Quail Run?
Mary Loveland: This is a good question. I don't think that the new, expanded boundaries for the schools that absorb the students from East Heights (New York) and Centennial (Cordley) are huge. The Cordley site is, I believe, more centrally located in the new Centennial-Cordley neighborhood. there are a couple neighborhoods that are bused into Centennial who will find the new distance less convenient, but they are not part of the natural geography of the neighborhood as it is.
There are some concerns about the status of sidewalks in some parts of the neighborhood that would be used by pedestrian students, but that has been brought to the city's attention and the superintendent is committed to offering a shuttle bus service from East Heights to New York.
Concerned parent: If this bond issue does not pass, what, in your mind, is plan B? Do you go back to the voters with a smaller bond issue or do you begin closing more schools or, since there isn't much fat, do you begin cutting into the meat and bone of the school curriculum?
Mary Loveland: a very good question. We will have to go back to the voters with a bond issue because the facility deficiencies will not go away. I have always said that this bond issue represents a prioritization of urgencies. I think that we will have to close schools anyway, but instead of merging 2 school enrollments into 1 school, we will have to subdivide the enrollment of the closed schools and assign the pieces to nearby schools that have the space. We could come back with a bond issue that just takes care of the junior high schools and LHS and LAHS, but that will leave elementary schools with temporary classrooms as the solution to their space needs. I worry about them every time there is bad weather. But you are right in that if we don't save operating dollars by closing schools we will definitely be cutting into the meat and bone of the educational program.
Jeremiah: I've been concerned lately about how our state school board candidates feel about allowing creationism to be taught alongside of evolution in our schools. What's your position on the issue -- should creationism be taught in Lawrence public schools as another view alongside of evolution?
Mary Loveland: I think that evolution is the scientific explanation of species development. I am a devoutly religious person, and believe that the Supreme Being is smart enough to have set that complex phenomenon into motion at some point. If a student wants to discuss his/her creation theories, I hope that this can be done respectfully when appropriate. But I repeat, I think that evolution as an explanation for the development and changes of species over eons of time is supported by huge amounts of scientific research and is the science of the issue. I am, please remember, an English major, and so I hope I am explaining my views clearly.
Riverside Parent: We kept hearing NO schools would close without community input?
Very few stood up and said they wanted any schools closed.
Many employees of the district have told us you knew all along the school would close. Were these meetings nothing more than a formality?
Mary Loveland: I don't think that the meetings were just a formality. We had been presented with the rationale for closing schools and wanted to provide the community the opportunity to provide "the case" for not closing schools. I listened, but did not hear, convincing programmatic or budgetary reasons for not closing the schools. That was my approach as we considered the issue.
patron: 41% of USD 497 juniors failed to reach satisfactory on the state reading assessment (2002). Over 45% of our sophomores failed to reach satisfactory on the state math assessments (2001). AND the achievement gap between low income and middle class students in Lawrence has continued to grow during your tenure of 16 years and 340 meetings. Why should voters continue to trust you with the education of ALL Lawrence students?
Mary Loveland: Because I am never satisfied with those kinds of results. It is always interesting that our high school students do so well on the tests that are important to them--the ACT and the SAT tests--but not so well on the state assessments. I am not sure that I would support the "high stakes" testing approach used in some states where students do not advance a grade level until a satisfactory score is achieved. I am afraid that this would lead to "teaching to the test" kinds of instruction that isn't what we really want. But I do wonder if we don't need to look at strategies that would make sure the students understood the importance of their performance on the assessments.
The district's vigilance in monitoring assessment results and changing or supplementing curricula to try to improve those assessment scores represents a team effort. The board tries to make decisions that will result in providing the instructional resources (staff and textbooks, etc.) needed for successful outcomes. If that approach is, in your view, not what the district needs in terms of leadership, then you will probably vote for someone else.
MrWheeler: If the bond does not pass, would you support a sales tax increase to help make up some of the funding shortfalls.
Mary Loveland: I would like to see how the courts rule about the sales tax in Johnson County. In any case, it would be a county sales tax, with proceeds going to all of the districts in the county. It would need the support of the county commission for it to come to a vote by the residents of the county. So I don't think that this would be available to us as a solution for the next budget year. I would be willing to consider such a tax, but I think that it would need some study and public input.
Mary Loveland: An ending note from Mary--thank you all for your interest in Lawrence Public Schools.