Archive for Monday, May 12, 2003

School-closing foes to put up a fight

May 12, 2003


Defenders of two Lawrence elementary schools on the chopping block won't go down without a fight.

They'll bring their collective anxiety to a boil at tonight's school board meeting, prior to final action on a measure to close East Heights and Centennial schools.

The Rev. Leo Barbee said he planned to be there to protest what he views as the school board's unwavering campaign to harm less-affluent neighborhoods on the east side of Lawrence.

"When you close a school, you begin to close a neighborhood," he said in an interview. "I feel there is an insensitivity on the school board."

A majority of the seven-person board is expected to reply "yes" to boundary changes that drop both elementary schools from the district map at the end of this school year. The board's preliminary vote in April was 6-1 in favor of closing East Heights and Centennial.

Supt. Randy Weseman said he would be surprised if any votes changed.

"There is no indication from what they've said to me," he said.

In April, Jack Davidson was the lone dissenter. Those in favor are Scott Morgan, Mary Loveland, Sue Morgan, Linda Robinson, Austin Turney and Leni Salkind.

The board previously voted to shut down Riverside School at the end of this school year. If all three close, the district would have 15 elementary schools.

The board has discussed selling Riverside, 601 N. Iowa. Centennial, 2145 La., is to be retained for possible later use. East Heights, 1430 Haskell Ave., will likely become the consolidated site of the district's preschool program. About 100 students in that program are scattered among six classrooms at elementary schools.

Lawrence resident William Dann, who has donated at least $250,000 to support the preschool program, said he wasn't a fan of the consolidation moves.

He said the goal of placing special classrooms for 4-year-olds at Pinckney, Woodlawn, Centennial and East Heights was to prepare the children academically and socially for kindergarten.

Relocating most of these children to the consolidated site at East Heights -- far from their neighborhood school -- would undermine the program's continuity, Dann said. Some parents of these children will find it harder to participate in school activities because they lack transportation, he said.

"It will fundamentally hurt that program," Dann said.

Jerry Schultz, who lives in the Centennial neighborhood, said the board's willingness to ignore the will of voters upset him.

On April 1, the board's $59 million bond for school construction was defeated by voters in the Lawrence school district. The bond would have consolidated East Heights and Centennial after elementary school expansion projects elsewhere.

Despite the spurning of their bond plan, the board pressed ahead with elementary school closures in an attempt to counter budget problems.

"I'm fighting to represent 55 percent of voters who rejected the bond to keep schools open," Schultz said. "That's what that vote was all about."

He said legitimate questions also have been raised about the district's estimated savings of closing the three elementary schools and about possible presence of lead paint in Cordley, which is to be kept open instead of Centennial.

Under the consolidation plan before the board, five schools will absorb the students of East Heights and Centennial.

l East Heights -- 90 East Heights students south of 15th Street and east of railroad tracks near Maryland Street will go to Kennedy School. Sixty East Heights students north of 15th Street and west of the tracks move to New York School.

l Centennial -- 140 Centennial students will shift to Cordley School. Thirty Centennial students in the Marvonne/Melholland areas will go to Schwegler School. Sixty Cordley students in Gaslight Village will move to Broken Arrow School.

In Riverside's case, the board split its 110 students between Deerfield and Pinckney schools.

The board meeting starts at 7 p.m. in district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

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