Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

Ortiz says school closings bad for neighborhoods

March 27, 2003


Leonard Ortiz says he understands the financial crisis facing Lawrence schools.

What he can't figure out is how a proposed bond issue that calls for elementary school consolidation is a solution.

The closing of East Heights and Centennial schools, expected to save $1.4 million annually, would have an adverse affect on neighborhoods and at-risk children, said Ortiz, who is running for one of four open school board seats after earning 11.36 percent of the primary vote.

Moreover, he said, the record-breaking $59 million bond issue might be too much for an already financially strapped community.

"The state of Kansas will not allow public education to collapse," he said. "It is highly probable that state, local and quite possibly county taxes will be raised to preserve programs and support teachers in Kansas."

A part-time history instructor at Kansas, Baker and Washburn universities, 45-year-old Ortiz would not only bring a new face to the board, but a unique background as well.

His parents dropped out of school by the 10th grade, and Ortiz, who is Hispanic, struggled to get a high school education. He worked 15 years in a factory and took college classes at night.

He eventually earned a bachelor's degree at Santa Clara University, a master's degree in education at Stanford University and a doctorate at Kansas University. He had a graduate minority fellowship at KU.

Ortiz said he hoped to bring diversity to an all-white board, but said his race was not the focal point of his campaign.

Neither, he adds, is the bond proposal.

"I would just urge people not to vote for someone based on their position on the bond," he said. "The bond is in the hand of the voters. Discern and pick the best candidates that are going to be there for the next four years."

Ortiz, who along with his wife, Dana, has two children at Schwegler School, said one of his major goals was to improve communication among neighborhood groups, teachers and the school board.

A lot of people felt like their concerns about the school bond issue weren't heard, he said. "I think it's so important to listen."

If elected, Ortiz said he would support building a new South Junior High and improving West Junior High and Lawrence High schools.

"These things are absolutely necessary," he said.

But he said he was perplexed as to why the board wants to spend bond money building additional music and computer rooms and athletic fields when at the same time it is considering eliminating activities that would make use of those facilities.

Although Ortiz said he hated to "even think about cutting" the budget, he said two easy targets might be administration and elective courses.

But whether it's high school classes, junior high athletics or elementary music, Ortiz said he would slash programs only as a "last, desperate attempt."

"In such a case I feel the board would have to prioritize what ... are most significant to our students," he said. "Students need such activities as a means of drawing them into the culture of public education."

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