Letters to the Editor

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February 11, 2010


To the editor:

I can’t imagine what parents are going through who have children at any of the elementary schools that are on the list for possible closing. With a budget deficit of $5 million, there are many tough choices that our school board is going to have to make. There is NO easy solution.

My children attend Sunflower Elementary, which is not on the list. Our concerns are overcrowded classrooms and cutting staff that already is operating at what is considered absolute bare bones. And yet more cuts at each school are inevitable, looking at the numbers.

I feel like the “Save Our Schools” campaign has only served to distract the people of Lawrence from the fact that TOUGH choices will have to be made and that it is more than the parents whose children attend the schools on the list for possible closure that are concerned. We should all be concerned about any of the suggested cuts and the overall impact it will have on the quality of education of our children.

I hate the idea of closing any neighborhood school, but don’t want it discounted if it means cuts to any of the other schools that might have been prevented by closing a building.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 4 months ago

Sunflower is represented in Save Our Neighborhood Schools as are all elementary and Jr High schools. This is a city wide concern.

Maintaining existing schools is worth millions in tax dollar savings.

Where is the money to build to one,two or three monster size elementary schools? This cannot save any money. Maintaining existing resources saves tax dollars.

Closing neighborhood schools may cost residential property owners a 10% loss in property value. USD 497 cannot afford this loss. The city and county cannot afford this loss.

  • Would any Sunflower parents be interested in moving children to smaller classrooms at New York School?

  • USD has a $7 million contingency fund that could be used to save all schools as we speak

  • Save Our Schools has presented the BOE with a suggested list of cuts and new revenue sources some of which will be helpful on the long term. These parents put up volunteer hours which produced some practical results:

USD 497 budget suggestions = $4.95 to 5.5 million Total savings and additional revenue http://discuss.larryville.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=58619

Do both high schools need two assistant principals? Do schools that which sit next to each other each need a principal?

Look at the extensive budget proposal.

The state needs to consider new revenue sources that which can be dedicated to public school funding such as collecting online sales taxes.

kansasmutt 8 years, 4 months ago

The fix .......... Operate school districts with less waste and Teach , not build fancy monster schools. Go back to the K-6 program of one teacher per room teaching a grade. 1 teacher per class, just like in the 50s 60s and 70s it’s a proven system. The current system if a failure and kids are less smart then they were 30 years ago.

Maddy Griffin 8 years, 4 months ago

Wouldn't it be nice if schools had all the money they need and the Air Force had to throw a bake sale to buy a bomber? I still have this poster from the 60's and it seems to make more sense now than it ever did.

four11 8 years, 4 months ago

No schools need to close. This waste is out of control. But, the waste is not happening in the classroom--the teachers are working harder than ever trying to meet the the test scores and USD guidelines put out by our system. The waste is happening at the top ---the administrative costs to "run" USD497 are out of control. The current system and people in the management clearly cannot handle the funds. And, every couple of years they suggest school closure to "weather a crisis"--- well clearly this has not saved any money--- if in 2003 they closed three schools-- did not save enough money than what will??
Also, this is a classic wedge issue like any other political device designed to divide us---SONS is trying to unite. And, FYI-- they solved the budget without closing schools--- it CAN happen!!!

jackson5 8 years, 4 months ago

Here are three painless changes:
1. Charge a fair administrative overhead to the Virtual School. (500K/year) 2. Use the student materials revolving fund to pay for student materials (workbooks, supplemental material for curricular and extracurricular activities), rather than paying for it out of the cash-strapped general fund account. (1M/year)
3. Stop paying for private foundation salaries and overhead out of the taxpayer-funded general fund. (50k).

These three ideas alone save over $1.5M from the general fund. There are more details at www.saveourneighborhoodschools.com.

The district is discussing closing schools AND raising class sizes. School closures won't solve the overcrowding problem. But making better financial decisions with our money will!

JohnDa 8 years, 4 months ago

I don't believe that SONS is distracting from the conversation. Quite the opposite. I think the group has made many people aware of this issue, whether they agree or disagree.

SONS wants to minimize the impact of program reductions just like everyone else. When the budget gets better, these programs can go back to full strength. If you close a building, you can't just open another to relieve the overcrowding when times get better.

Keep in mind that closing schools is just a convenient way to fire lots of people and it will reduce services for everyone and raises class size for everyone.

kugrad 8 years, 4 months ago

Ms. Kohnke, I hear your concerns, but I suggest that you take a look at the SOS website. You will see that they are not distracting people from the fact that tough choices need to be made, as you suggest. Rather, they are offering very specific alternative suggestions of other places in the existing budget that could be reduced. I think a common misperception is that, if a couple smaller schools were to close, the remaining schools would have smaller class sizes. This is untrue. The district would have to reconfigure boundaries of all schools to make that happen. If New York or Cordley or Wakarusa closes, for example, you are just as likely to see an INCREASE in class size at Sunflower. The kids will have to go somewhere, and the district could easilly start moving a few displaced students incrementally East to West, filling your school with larger classes. Sunflower classes are not currently the largest. A speaker from sunflower bemoaned their child being in a 4th grade of 27, but that is comparable to NY class size and there are 32 kids in 3rd grade this year at NY who will be in one fourth grade next year. So you are not alone by any means in class size. Actually 27 is reasonable fro 4th grade based on actual class size research, but that is another issue. No one like larger class sizes. I would be careful about a scenario where you pit school against school in this debate. This is the myth: The outcome of the hard choices will be good for kids - that somehow the budget crisis will result in a better situation across the district. That is just a pipe dream. So what are you left with; sharing the burden or just letting one or two schools feel the pain. Even if you select the second option, you will still have zero guarantee that class size won't get worse at your school. SOS is trying to be proactive and you should give it a second look.

spiderd 8 years, 4 months ago

Here are some of the numbers from the Board's study session:

  • If QR was the school that closed-- Sunflower would receive 107 of their kids next year.
  • If WV was the school that closed-- watch out Schwegler because they would transfer 110 new kids to your site.
  • If NY was the school to close-- 74 new kids will be placed in Kennedy, putting their enrollment over 400. None of these buildings would benefit from addtional resources-just additional strain on the weakened staff that is in every building already.

Look, closing schools is what actually smashes more desks into the classrooms. Raising student teacher ratio does NOT. That is not the same thing as raising class size. Please, Lawrence, class sizes are only going to get bigger if you take away buildings!!! You can't rehire square footage in the next few years when the district has a little breathing room.

Bob_Keeshan 8 years, 4 months ago

"Go back to the K-6 program of one teacher per room teaching a grade. 1 teacher per class, just like in the 50s 60s and 70s it’s a proven system"

I would assume this is a reference to the additional professionals that are often present in the modern classroom.

My understanding is these professionals are there to serve the needs of special education students. By federal mandate, all children must be offered an education by the school district.

In the 50s, 60s, and 70s the children being served by the additional staff you are dismissing would not be in the classroom. They would be in a state hospital. Is this really a period you want to return to? Warehousing "disabled" children?

four11 8 years, 4 months ago

Bob-- those people( paraprofessionals) will continue to be there to serve special needs-- they will not be cut. --I attended a meeting in which someone from the district cleared up that valid concern. That comes from funding that is not at stake right now.

SpunKey 8 years, 4 months ago

On a PERSONAL level we are all pinching pennies and doing without. It is about time we realized the SYSTEM needs to do this too. Spend less and INCREASE REVENUES!

  • Freeze all travel money for "enrichment" activities. get back to basics (again)!

  • Cut administration # in half.

  • Freeze administration pay rates.

  • Charge tuition for the high school's virtual classroom (those 18-20-year old "kids" that "the system failed").

  • Make rent taxable (apartments, storage, etc) on a city/county level (I'm sure that can be done queitly druing the summer just like the smoking ban was)! For decades locals have flit a big chunck of the bill with real estate taxes. Requiring rental houses to register/license, report sales and collect/remit tax would help resolve many local wounds (# of tenants/parking, disrepair/safety compliance, etc. & nudge landlords into reporting ALL their rental income on federal and state returns).

As the Rolling Stone sing, "You can't always get what you WANT...." Focus on NEEDS! Education = need! Class size, sports and location are wants. If these "enrichments" mean enough to the parents, they'll find a way to make it happen.

When I attended Lawrence schools (1972-1981) we had a higher % of graduates and better overall BASIC education. The head principals (up to Jr high) knew ALL the kids names (instead of attending workshops and administrative pow-wows outside the building/city/state). My assistant prinicpals in high school taught classes too!

When my kids attended Lawrence schools (1988-2002) the "great decline" had already started. Like many, I fought for a while before I pulled my youngest out of public schools and went private. My real estate taxes are being wasted on the "school system" (aka baby sitting service) that evolved (via social promotion and no kid left behind) around the turn of the century!

Wake UP! Deal with it! Before my grandson starts school in 2013!!!!

jafs 8 years, 4 months ago

I assume that kansasmutt is of an older generation from their posts.

If he/she is claiming that younger people are not as smart as he/she is, he/she should probably improve his/her grammar and spelling.

Citizen_X 8 years, 4 months ago

Ms. Kohnke, your comment that "Our concerns are overcrowded classrooms [at Sunflower] and cutting staff that already is operating at what is considered absolute bare bones," should serve as reason for you to support SOS. If any school is closed, the student population at other schools will increase and redistricting will occur. This is a zero sum game. Additionally, your comment that Sunflower is not on “the list” is not correct, unless Dr. Doll is intentionally misleading a great deal of people. Currently, it is his assertion that there is no "list" and all schools are being considered. Cordley is current at maximum capacity, should it close, there would be more than 300 elementary students added to the system and must be accommodated in other schools. This will require redistricting, which could place you or those families close to you outside the Sunflower district. We are all in this fight together. Let’s not let Dr. Doll divide and conquer the Lawrence school district.

not_that_crazy 8 years, 4 months ago

Great letter! "Distraction from tough choices." So MANY, MANY people are thinking this.

Citizen_X 8 years, 4 months ago

Dr. Doll, based upon numerous comments he has made, seems committed to closing schools in Lawrence. Should he succeed, I recommend we immediately start a campaign to have him removed from his position and hire a Superintendant committed to Lawrence’s educational values and principles. Dr. Doll is an employee of the city, thus our employee. If he cannot adequate accomplish what we have asked him to do, it is time to find a replacement that will stand with us and not against us.

not_that_crazy 8 years, 4 months ago

"spiderd (Anonymous) says… Here are some of the numbers from the Board's study session: - If QR was the school that closed— Sunflower would receive 107 of their kids next year."

Does anyone actually believe that they would close Quail Run, one of best performing schools in the whole district? They pick a cross-section of schools for an example. (If you are a conspiracy theorist, you can say they are just throwing in a couple westside schools.)

four11 8 years, 4 months ago

Citizen X makes a good point..... This system needs to be fixed not just kick the problem further down the line-- if our superintendent can't be the one to fix it-- then we need to find someone who can.

Hop2It 8 years, 4 months ago

And what is the role of elected Board? Dr. Doll can't ignore the guidance and governance of the Board.

Tough choices are going to have to have to made, and no one is going to be completely happy. What might be best for your school, might not be best for the district as a whole. If we don't look at data, efficiencies and student performance, unfortunately they not make some of those tough decisions.

four11 8 years, 4 months ago

The Board makes the vote-- but the role of the superintendent is to give information to the Board so they can make the best decision. Why does "tough" choices mean eliminating schools on the East side? That does not seem "tough" to me-- it seems cowardly and uncreative! ---Do not try and "distract" me from the the facts--please! ---We having been pouring over data every night for the last two months, attending meetings and asking questions.
There have been many people at SONS going over the numbers with certified accountants-- offering solutions that maybe not be easy but certainly less painful than wiping out entire schools.

not_that_crazy 8 years, 4 months ago

"merrill (Anonymous) says… Sunflower is represented in Save Our Neighborhood Schools as are all elementary and Jr High schools. This is a city wide concern."

I usually skip merrill's copypasta...but where is there a listing of "members" by school? As four11 says above, this is about saving or "eliminating schools on the East side." I have the distinct impression that most of the ACTIVE members are affiliated with certain elementary schools. Save our Schools really means Save MY School.

gl0ck0wn3r 8 years, 4 months ago

I think it is refreshing that Merrill finally realizes that the SLT needs to be built in order to increase property values in the area and - in turn - increase tax income available for the schools. It is too bad that he didn't realize this earlier. Perhaps if he applied his copypasta skills toward increasing business and property values sooner, Lawrence USD wouldn't be in the position in which it finds itself. Here are some suggestions:

A $5000 license fee on every professional landscape job

A $10 user fee on each one way ticket on the T.

Create a "special traffic zone" bounded on the south by East 19th street, on the east by Harper, on the north by East 11th street and on the west by Harper in which vehicles are charged a special $5 per day user fee in much the same way London has created traffic zones.

Finally, perhaps the school district should simply cut the number of children allowed in any given classroom. Enrollment could be on a first come/first serve basis and when a schools are full, the students without a slot must find schooling at a private institution or not at all. That fixes the problem from the demand side.

spiderd 8 years, 4 months ago

not_that_crazy- You couldn't possibly be more wrong. People derive passion from their own school but once brought into the conversation, logically see that it would be wrong to close any school. There is great effort being made to include all of this great city in a one for all, all for one spirit. Anyone at the march last saturday can attest to that. http://prairielighthouse.webs.com/saveourschoolsmarch.htm

Take a look at the boundaries map: There are no more "easy" school closings. The next one to close creates a large area of town without a school. This affects all of us and most people know it. Every one of these schools is an effective program, developed over years and impossible to ever replace once gone.

four11 8 years, 4 months ago

Crazy--- why does that offend you? what do have against the East side schools??--would you prefer those people just lay down and take one for the team again? ALSO-- FYI--the SONS group is an inclusive group for all schools......

Bob_Keeshan 8 years, 4 months ago

Under what scenario will closing elementary schools result in lower class sizes at the remaining schools?

SpunKey 8 years, 4 months ago

gl0ck0wn3r (Anonymous) says… "I think it is refreshing that Merrill finally realizes that the SLT needs to be built in order to increase property values in the area and - in turn - increase tax income available for the schools"

Both of you are wrong on the tax part. The Mil Levy determines the pool of money to be available. The property values determine each lot's cost share of the pool. Increasing property values just shift's who is paying.

That aside, increased values do effect sales commissions, insurance premiums and other trickle downs.... but not real estate tax portion of school funding.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 4 months ago

Building the SLT would be a waste of tax dollars because it would ADD more miles to our maintenance bills, increase our cost of living and do nothing for 23rd street. However maintaining existing highways would not. Then again neither have anything to do will school tax dollars as yet.

Now If the legislature would eliminate all pork barrel projects for NEW roads and transfer those dollars into public education then we are on to something. Public education pays back our community and we can live without new roads.

We cannot live without good education.

Private schools are about making big bucks. For profit private schools will gobble up tax dollars in a flash. There are some principals collecting $350,000 a year. But they do claim to provide smaller classrooms that which facilitates the highest achievement. So let's do that for less with an existing resource aka public education.

staytuned 8 years, 4 months ago

The District is in a jam; we all are.

Whether you agree with the way in which the District spends its money or not these cuts are the result of the State money being cut; some after it was promised. $5 million cuts deeper than wasted administrative overhead.

We are in lean times and we are all having to cut back. The way in which we do this is to become more efficient. In business this often means cutting jobs, that is the harsh reality of the system in which we live.

Information from the District shows that the cost to educate a student at New York is $6,271. At Sunflower the cost is $3,716. In fact, the average cost to educate an elementary student in Lawrence is $4,381. That is a huge difference. You would not respect a CEO who lacked the courage to look at all avenues to cut spending, and you would not respect a superintendent who did not advise his board in the same way. And it is the board that votes, not the superintendent.

Dr. Doll has been visiting site councils and I have found his talks and question/answer sessions to be both forthcoming and refreshing. During the last meeting he informed the group that there are 1500 empty seats in our elementary schools. This does not allow our schools to be as efficient as the times require.

I hope we can all remember that the Board is not getting paid for this 'thankless' job and that they did not create the situation we find our schools facing.

Closing a single school or many schools will not allow our District to meet the $5 million required to balance the budget. It will take many other painful sacrifices. The programs that SONS recommends be cut on their website, which is based on the District study session sheet, touches every aspect of a student's day; from support staff and building maintenance, to activities and the arts. I sincerely hope that the Board looks at these individually rather than making so many cuts in this area.

The sheet which I refer to can be found here: http://www.usd497.org/AboutUs/MeetTheSchoolBoard/Agenda/2009.10Archives/documents/20100111StudySession/ElementaryCostByBuildingC1.pdf

Hop2It 8 years, 4 months ago

Thanks stayedtuned. Most thoughtful thing I've read all day.

gl0ck0wn3r 8 years, 4 months ago

Ok Merrill, try to keep up with what you said in a previous post. You said:

“A new highway interchange, for example, generally increases the value of nearby property because it increases its accessibility.”

Thus, one can logically assume that the SLT would "generally increase the value of nearby property because it increases its accessibility" or, in other words, the SLT would benefit home owners in East Lawrence.

Based on this, one can either assume you agree that the SLT should be built (this was posted by you!) or - despite the fact that you posted it, you believe home owners in East Lawrence should suffer economically. Which is it?

Please remember this is the same copypasta you keep spamming regarding property values decreasing 10% when a school is closed.

kansasmutt 8 years, 4 months ago

Bob ) If the schools were run right, the special needs kids would get even better educations than now. The plan of 1 teacher per grade is like it used to be. The kids came out smarter with real world knowledge. The idea of kids going from room to room 3 or 5 times a day , in grade school with a different teacher is foolish and wasteful. One teacher teaching a child all day is best and lets the teacher get to know the child’s needs better and he or she can spend time on what that child needs. As it is now, kids don’t learn as good and teachers don’t have total control on what i child learns.

George Lippencott 8 years, 4 months ago

Does anybody know about the size of the area of attendance for New York compared with the size for say Sunflower How about student-teacher ratios for the two schools. Just how evenly are we treating our students across the system?

multiagelearner 8 years, 4 months ago

New York has an average class size of 18. The sixth grade at Sunflower has 27 kids in all three sections; the sixth grade at New York has 14 kids in one section. If you really want to look at what is best for ALL kids than look farther than your own child. Some children are successful in school because they are involved in sports, music, and the fine arts programs. SONS wants to get rid of those programs to save a school that has 125 students in it. The truth is that closing schools actually saves jobs and keeps class sizes lower. Big picture is apparently too big for the SONS organization to see. Big picture is that these decisions affect people's livelihoods. There will be many people who will loose their jobs. Children adapt very well, unless they have their heads filled with jibberish about how hard changing schools will be. I just hope the board makes the decisions that must be made like a CEO would at a business. This is a business and the job is to educate ALL students and meet their needs. What happens when those New York students grow up and want to play high school sports? Will there be a Bring Back High School Sport group?

Hop2It 8 years, 4 months ago

Moderate (George Lippencott) says… "Does anybody know about the size of the area of attendance for New York compared with the size for say Sunflower How about student-teacher ratios for the two schools. Just how evenly are we treating our students across the system?"

Good question, George!
I also wonder about the principal per child ratio at the different schools. That probably effects the teachers and the children. I know that some elementary schools are full with 4 sections per some grades, while some only have one section per grade.

deskboy04 8 years, 4 months ago

Limit the number of administrators to the amount that will fit into the old administrative annex south of the high school.

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