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Letters to the Editor

Short-term fix

February 12, 2010

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To the editor:

My story is simple.

Both my husband and I experienced an idyllic childhood growing up in Lawrence and attending our public schools. After college, we moved away with the naïve belief that there were many other cities that offered the rich and unique character of Lawrence. We returned to Lawrence eight years ago so our children could experience the same quality public education and childhood we did.

This includes a “walking life” which was an integral part of our upbringing. We can easily walk to our children’s schools, locally owned stores and vibrant downtown for dinner and a scoop of ice cream without ever getting in the car.

Closing our well-run, tight-knit neighborhood schools to fix a short-term funding problem will have devastating and long-lasting consequences for all of Lawrence. This would include dissuading families from moving here to live, work or start a business. I ask that we support only the proposed solutions to our budget crisis which do not include closing neighborhood schools.

Comments

oneeye_wilbur 4 years, 2 months ago

And the city continues to reap what it sowed by supporting the last two ill conceived bond issues, that couldn't even float on their own. They were so bad, that the public had to be brainwashed by an outside firm, hired by the district.

What does this tell anyone about the district and the intelligence of the community? Lacking!

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jafs 4 years, 2 months ago

commuter,

If the buildings need more repairs, that's not the fault of the employees, unless they're not doing them well.

How about if the administration chose to keep the extra 2-3 million from the bond issue for necessary maintenance/repairs instead of building new athletic fields with it?

I will think very carefully before voting for any more school bonds as a result of that spending.

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commuter 4 years, 2 months ago

puckstah - the blame to for the bad upkeep of the buildings has to be placed on one person, who?? How about the person in charge of facilities??

Think about it this way. How can you present a list of repairs every year that grows and grows, then you need a bond issue to fix those repairs, then the next year the list starts getting bigger and bigger every year after and then you need another bond issue, and STILL HAVE A JOB??? If this is how I did my job, my employer would fire me so fast, it wouldn't be funny.

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puckstah 4 years, 2 months ago

grimpeur - agreed on the absolute irresponsibility and inability to solve problems sensibly.

Guess what, they've already purchased land in a field SE of town to build a school...architecture firm working on it....the bond will be coming...be ready.

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grimpeur 4 years, 2 months ago

I don't have kids in USD497, but I needn't to recognize that the board and admin of this district are absolutely irresponsible, unable to solve problems in a sensible manner, and completely f*cked when it comes to priorities.

If they ask for money for capital improvements after the debacle known as stadia, that will be the icing on the cake. When did anyone realize that non-athletic capital outlays would be necessary? And why did they choose to rush the new stadiums to completion instead?

I feel for the parents and students of this district. It's just a damn shame that they're forced to deal with the complete incompetence shown by the admin and board. Too bad.

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puckstah 4 years, 2 months ago

funkdog1 - you say "No, when times are good, the school district does what we all do: it makes repairs, improvements, and grows to fit more students while the money is available."

Have you been in any of the elementary schools in town recently? They've been the redheaded step child of the district for years - well before this budget crisis. All but Langston Hughes, because it is the newest, look shabby to say the least. No infrastructure, no paint, sad tables/desks. In some cases, the roofs are leaking! The district has ignored their facilities needs despite the fact that 2 years ago they requested a list from each school for a list of capital improvement needs. It's pathetic.....all the capital outlay funds that have been spent on secondary and athletic facilities while the elementary schools are ignored.

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beaujackson 4 years, 2 months ago

The REAL problem is a lack of elementary students in Lawrence.

Why?

Hundreds of families have moved to nearby towns because of faulty zoning in single family (SF) neighborhoods. Allowing 3 (or more) unrelated people to occupy houses (even) in SF zoning is responsible for OVER 50% of housing in central Lawrence (6th to 23rd, & Iowa to Mass.) to become rentals to KU students.

Student rental housing has "crowded-out" families in Central Lawrence.

There are approximately 10,000 homes in central Lawrence and over half of these are student rentals. These houses have NO CHILDREN!

Fewer families means fewer children, resulting in less need for elementary schools.

Lack of families (& children) is because of the Lawrence city commission, who have condoned faulty SF zoning since 1965.

Unfortunately, the chamber of commerce has failed to recognize the problem, and the 497 school administration and BOE have had their collective "heads in the sand" on this issue.

They rejected this solution in 2002. Too bad.

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funkdog1 4 years, 2 months ago

"I no longer have children in school, but I can tell you over the years that the school district has squandered money when the economy has been good. The school district needs to learn to tighten their belts even when the economy is good, instead of spending every last penny of our tax money."

No, when times are good, the school district does what we all do: it makes repairs, improvements, and grows to fit more students while the money is available.

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kugrad 4 years, 2 months ago

It is simply good public and educational policy to have smaller student:teacher ratios in schools that serve the lowest SES populations. It is an equity issue as well as acknowleging educational reality. Having the same sized classes at every school in the district is not fairness in terms of educational equity.

In terms of actual research, there is nothing to show that having a class of 30 kids in upper elementary (4th-6th grades) produces better achievement than a class of 20. Nothing. You don't have to worry about classes of 40 because there are statutory limits on how many students can be in a classroom of a given size, and our elementary school classrooms across the entire district are too small to legally accomdate such a large class. The truth is that NO ONE KNOWS if closing schools would result in smaller class sizes or larger class sizes just as NO ONE KNOWS if keeping neighborhood schools open would increase or decrease class size across the district. It all depends on interrelated decisions about boundaries, how many teachers are at a school, how many open rooms the school has, and an unknown no one can plan on - how many students actually enroll at a given school. It really doesn't make sense to debate this issue in terms of the relative effects of closing/not closing schools on class size since everyone is just speculating and nothing more.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

areyousure (Anonymous) says… "...What are you willing to lose?"

$3M of administration and $1M of Learning Coaches: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/did_i...

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areyousure 4 years, 2 months ago

Not closing schools isn't a guarantee that class sizes won't increase. If the district still has 1.5 to 2 million to cut after the recommended cuts and payroll is the largest expense, there probably will be teachers laid off. Less teachers means fewer classrooms with classes in them. All the buildings may be in use but not all the rooms.

Whether or not your school is on the "list" of schools to be closed, this decision will affect you. Any services that have to be cut in order to keep all schools open will be applied district wide. One parent at the public forum said that he was willing to clean the building if that is what it took to keep his kid's school open. Are parents at all the schools willing to do that?

Everyone is more than willing to tell the board what they don't want them to do. How about telling them what your priorities are as far as what should be cut in order to keep all the schools open. In the end, something has to go - $5 million worth of somethings. As parents, what services are you willing to have your children do without? School nurses - the proposed cuts will have each nurse covering at two schools. Librarians - what if the library in each school can only be staffed for half a day? Music - how important is your child learning to play an instrument? Some districts are cutting out music, drama and sports programs to adjust for the new budgets. What are you willing to lose?

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

@ commuter - Where did you get the idea that having more locations for students would increase the amount of kids at your school? The fact is there will be personnel cuts regardless of a school remaining open or closed. If the smaller schools close, the long tenured teachers will simply bump the younger teachers out of the larger schools. The personnel cuts will be at the larger schools.

More to the point however, is the fact that closing a school does not save money. The district proved this in 2003 when they closed three schools and have increased spending every year since; a total of 40% in just six years - over twice the rate of COLA (cost of living).

The real problem is a bloated administration: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/did_i...

However, if you are convinced that closing a school is in the best interest of the children then you must do so with the least impact. That would mean closing one of the larger ones such as Langston-Hughes (567 students) or Quail Run (504 students); this would bring up the population of the smaller schools and provide the most savings. The Administration has already stated that the most savings would come from closing Quail Run ($648,448), a $110K more than from closing New York. http://www.usd497.org/AboutUs/MeetTheSchoolBoard/Agenda/2009.10Archives/documents/20100202StudySession/SchoolClosureExamples.pdf

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

East Lawrence is growing by way of new families moving into east Lawrence and/or current families having children. Retaining and maintaining existing assets such as schools has been considered fiscally responsible for at least two hundred years…. down right frugal if you will.

*East Lawrence is not a dying farm community. Instead it is a growing neighborhood community. Home to restored and new housing.

*East Lawrence is an attractive neighborhood. The residents CHOOSE the east side for a variety of reasons:

  • East,and Old west Lawrence are the choice neighborhoods for restoring old beautiful homes.

*Eastern Lawrence is about old growth trees,character of housing, easy walking or biking to most destinations like downtwn KU and our public schools.

  • East Lawrence has Weavers, Browns Shoe Fit,Dillons, downtown hardware store,D&D tire shop,Liberty Hall,City Library,Senior Service Center, used goods such as the antique mall/Fun and Games,Bay Leaf,Kring's, Waxman Candle,Foot Print,Mass Street Music, a Cottins Hardware,Chiropractor on 23rd, very nice parks and the new hike and bike trail These are but a few of the wonderful attractions to East Lawrence.

  • East Lawrence is not dying and is home to many many many college graduates and “common” laborers aka diversity.

  • Eastern Lawrence received many thumbs up by urban consultant Placemakers for our:

  • Home designs
  • layout of neighborhood streets
  • proximity to neighborhood schools
  • sidewalks - a walkable neighborhood community
  • proximity to dowtown

Closing schools is wasteful thinking. Let’s work this out sensibly.

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JohnDa 4 years, 2 months ago

@commuter: You don't sound to happy with your crammed school. So why would you suggest that everyone should do the same?

@Katara: the difference is that closing more schools will leave the east side, where enrollment is growing, with no schools. The reason that directionality comes into play is because many would rather place all the burden on east side families, rather than sharing the burden across the district.

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Katara 4 years, 2 months ago

The whole East side vs. West side thing here in Lawrence amazes me. I don't understand it.

Where was the outrage when Riverside was closed a few years ago? It was a small neighborhood school but I don't recall hearing too many East side people getting upset about it even though the arguments for keeping New York school open were the the same for keeping Riverside open (i.e. small class size, neighborhood school, etc).

Are people too blinded by this directional competition that they can't focus on how this affects all children in Lawrence?

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tomatogrower 4 years, 2 months ago

commuter (Anonymous) says… So Sarah, by keeping the smaller schools open (minority), the larger schools will have larger classroom size to keep the budget in line?? Correct.

If people want to keep their small schools, I think they should be willing to pay more themselves. It is not fair to the rest of the district to have to be crammed into larger classrooms so the minority can be happy.

This makes absolutely no sense. If they close the smaller schools, the children there will just not stop attending. They will go to the other schools make that class size even bigger. Also, increasing the overall school population who needs help, and using the same amount of staff for more children. Less one on one for all kids in Lawrence.

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oneeye_wilbur 4 years, 2 months ago

HIllcrest Grade School would make a nice senior center. Part of the playground could become a real garden and in fact, the Farmer's Market could be held at Hillcrest Senior Center.

Lawrence has an old jail now for a Senior Center. Lawrence is not elderly friendly.

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ResQd 4 years, 2 months ago

I no longer have children in school, but I can tell you over the years that the school district has squandered money when the economy has been good. The school district needs to learn to tighten their belts even when the economy is good, instead of spending every last penny of our tax money. They need to look hard at top heavy administration and cut costs before closing any school. If they close schools now and the economy gets better down the road, what they will come up with next - build more schools! I have no problems with higher taxes, if it goes into the hands of the teachers, not the administration.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 2 months ago

This problem was created largely by sprawl, which has long been subsidized by people living in older parts of town. So now commuter thinks the east side of town should pick up the tab, one more time (but probably not the last, given that closing schools will have a very negative impact on property values in these neighborhoods.)

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lizziemarie 4 years, 2 months ago

Everyone should realize that closing any school will not keep your class size from increasing. The school board has stated that no matter what happens class sizes will increase. Please take closing schools out of the discussion.

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dmkansas 4 years, 2 months ago

I think the schools and county as a hole need to make adjustments! The people have. I read a article last week in the Journal World that our real estate was bucking the national average and the prices haven't fallen! Someone needs a lesson in reality! Have they tried selling a house lately???????????????? At the present time the county govt is spending more than they have it the property tax was adjusted like it should be.

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commuter 4 years, 2 months ago

So Sarah, by keeping the smaller schools open (minority), the larger schools will have larger classroom size to keep the budget in line?? Correct.

If people want to keep their small schools, I think they should be willing to pay more themselves. It is not fair to the rest of the district to have to be crammed into larger classrooms so the minority can be happy.

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