Neighborhood activists who are pleading with the school board to not close schools may soon have a louder voice on their side: the Lawrence City Commission.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider sending a letter to the Lawrence School Board that urges the board to “not close any of Lawrence’s schools.”
The letter appears to have significant support from a majority of commissioners. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Aron Cromwell both asked last week for such a letter to be placed on a future agenda. On Friday, Commissioner Mike Dever said he agreed with the letter’s request.
“I’m in favor of sending a message that indicates our desire to maintain healthy and strong neighborhoods, and those often revolve around schools,” Dever said.
Commissioners won’t likely be unanimous in their support of the letter. Mayor Rob Chestnut said he intends to vote against sending the letter. Although, he said, he recognizes the value of schools to the health of neighborhoods, he’s uncertain whether the City Commission has answers to the financial problems the district is facing.
“I haven’t had the time to really look at a lot of the other options and alternatives that are out there,” Chestnut said. “I’m uncomfortable sending a letter that asks a governing body to do something when I don’t know if there is another viable option.”
The school district is facing an estimated $5 million budget shortfall for the next school year, and has had discussions about closing some Lawrence schools to account for the gap.
Dever — who said he respects the tough position that board members are in — said he’s comfortable making the recommendation because he’s very concerned that closing schools would be a long-term solution to what may be a short-term budget crisis.
“Once you close a school, it is very hard to reverse that,” Dever said.
He said he thinks the district ought to look harder at ways to cut labor costs, because personnel expenses amount to about 85 percent of the district’s budget.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.