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Archive for Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Pleas don’t save two schools

Board votes to close East Heights, Centennial within weeks

May 13, 2003

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Nancy Hiebert pounded her fist on the lectern Monday while raking the Lawrence school board with a wrathful gaze.

Her blowup was fueled by six school board members who passively listened to public comment about their plan to close East Heights and Centennial schools in less than two weeks.

"Don't look bored!" the former Douglas County commissioner shouted. "Don't look like it doesn't matter, because it does matter!"

After a dozen people spoke against consolidation and all board members present outlined reasons to the contrary, the board voted 6-0 to redraw school boundaries in a way that squeezes both schools off the district's map at the end of this school year. A preliminary vote in April produced a similar result, with only Jack Davidson dissenting. He was absent Monday.

Board members offered educational, financial and demographic reasons for dropping the number of elementary schools to 15. Riverside School also will close this month. The board closed Grant School last year.

Austin Turney, the board's vice president, said investing scarce resources in East Heights, Centennial and Riverside on a chance enough children would someday materialize to fill available classrooms again was unreasonable.

"We weren't elected to stop the clock," he said. "We were elected to educate children."

Voting in favor of the closures were Scott Morgan, Linda Robinson, Sue Morgan, Leni Salkind, Mary Loveland and Turney.

About 50 people attended the televised board meeting.

The toll of elementary consolidation on the community is appreciated by the board, Sue Morgan said.

"It's a volatile issue. It's an emotional issue," she said.

However, Hiebert wasn't convinced all the board members felt the pain of people challenged by the closures. Some families without reliable transportation will struggle to get children to new schools, she said. Hiebert also said the board didn't grasp health risks faced by students at Cordley, 1837 Vt. She said lead paint had been detected in the building.

"I wish you wouldn't smile Linda (Robinson), because it isn't funny!" Hiebert said.

Robinson said the board's alternative was to cut at least $1 million deeper into the budget. That would significantly raise class sizes, reduce nursing and counseling staff, deplete junior high school sports programs and reduce funding to fine arts and libraries.

"That's what we're looking at," she said.

Brent Garner, who was defeated in this year's primary election for school board, followed Hiebert's tongue-lashing with one of his own. He vowed to work to remove from office all supporters of Centennial's closure. His daughter attends the school at 2145 La.

"I will be seeking recall action against as many of you as I can," Garner said.

He won't have to worry about two current board members. Loveland and Scott Morgan lost re-election bids and complete their four-year terms in June.

Leonard Ortiz, who won a seat on the school board and takes office in July, said the board should have postponed a decision on consolidation for a year to consider alternatives.

"I'm frustrated," he said. "I'm perplexed, bewildered because I still feel that decisions being made by the board are unreasonable."

Dayna Carleton said demise of her neighborhood school, East Heights, was heartbreaking. Eliminating a school on the city's east side appears more acceptable to the community than altering the educational landscape on the more affluent west side, she said.

"This is a class issue," she said. "I don't believe this is the best choice we can be making at this time."

In August, East Heights students will go to either New York or Kennedy schools. The East Heights building will be converted to an early-childhood center for at-risk 4-year-olds.

Students now at Centennial will go to either Cordley or Schwegler schools. Some Cordley students will go to Broken Arrow School. Children at Riverside will be divided between Deerfield and Pinckney schools.

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