With more budget cuts from the state to be announced next week, the Lawrence school district is bracing itself for a smaller general fund, and school board President Scott Morgan wants the board to start talking about potentially closing schools.
“I think we need to bring up the issue of school closings, take a look at it, let people know that we’re talking about it,” Morgan said. “We have to start looking at our facilities in terms of closing schools, potentially. It’s one of my least favorite things to bring up.”
Superintendent Rick Doll said everything is liable to take hits because of the severity of cuts yet to come, including the possibility of closing schools.
“What else could you say that would lead people to believe that this is serious and everything is on the table?” Doll said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. It just means that everything is on the table.”
Morgan has been through this before. He was a member of the board that decided to close three elementary schools — Riverside, Centennial and East Heights — after the 2002-2003 school year.
Lawrence is looking at an impending cut of about $2.2 million and the strong possibility of another in January before the Legislature returns to Topeka. While contingency funds and other frozen monies will help the district absorb the rest of this year’s cuts, next year will be the real struggle.
“I want to reduce the amount of damage we do to the classroom, and that’s part of why I want to at least discuss closing some schools because there are savings there in doing so,” Morgan said.
While the board hasn’t discussed any closings yet, Morgan said he would propose the discussion soon.
“Frankly, we probably have too many square feet for the number of elementary kids that we have,” Morgan said. “I’d much rather put money into programs and staff than I would into buildings.”
It would be part of the district administration’s job to research how much money could be saved if the decision to close one or more schools was made. The district would also give the public a chance to weigh in on the matter if the board wants to continue looking at the issue.
“Mostly I think it will come back to how much can be saved and is that worth it,” Doll said. “This is really getting serious.”
Morgan had no timeline on bringing the topic to the rest of the board and did not mention how many or which schools could potentially close.