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Archive for Friday, February 19, 2010

City may send letter urging school board to say no to school closings

Officials to consider letter to board

Three of the five city commissioners favor the idea to not close any local schools. The city officials will consider sending a letter to the school board.

February 19, 2010

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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.

Comments

cletus26 4 years, 1 month ago

"because personnel expenses amount to about 85 percent of the district’s budget." this is the major problem, then fix it. it's a shame that closing schools is even on the agenda. this is just a shame, low-down-dirty-shame.

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cletus26 4 years, 1 month ago

"because personnel expenses amount to about 85 percent of the district’s budget." this is the major problem, then fix it. it a shame that closing schools is even on the agenda. this is just a shame, low-down-dirty-shame.

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George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Did_I_say_that (anonymous) says...

See response on other thread.

OK, make a collection from all the caring people here abouts worried about their kids and make me whole for the five elementary and three high schools I attended in response to government edict on your behalf.

Change is great - as long as it affects the other person. This whole argument by SOS and you sounds awful hypocritical to me!! Sometimes we just cannot afford the status quo!

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

Moderate (George Lippencott) says... "Right now, to me, it sound like an attempt to find a bogyman to avoid what appears to me to be hard decisions. That is why there is a school board."

However, it would be just as easy to turn your statement around; and, when so done it makes more sense. "It sounds as if [closing schools] is an attempt to find a bogyman to avoid what appears to me to be hard decisions [of firing Administrators that have become my buddies]. That is why there is a school board [to prevent cronyism]."

George, the District has proven that closing schools fails to reduce expenditures. They have increased expenses at twice the rate of COLA even after closing three schools. However, there is no doubt that eliminating personnel (Administrators) would definitively reduce expenses by the exact amount of their weighted salary.

Closing a school will create irreparable harm that cannot be undone; and will not save any money. Terminating an administrator, which has immediate savings, can be reversed with a rehire when it is sound to do so.

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George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Did_I_say_that (anonymous) says...

Thank you, that is pretty much what I thought. I appreciate your and the SOS group in your focus on administrators. I would need that analyst to help me know what is being done by whom before I would lay off people. I am reluctant to fire people and then have that workload fall on somebody else such as the teachers. I think the idea of firing administrators needs to be developed further. Right now, to me, it sound like an attempt to find a bogyman to avoid what appears to me to be hard decisions. That is why there is a school board.

You know the state is facing similar decisions in maintaining as many governmental and school entities across the state. To the smaller towns the loss of a school is considered the loss of the town. Higher stakes. Downturns are painful – but they do happen with regularity.

I appreciate your zeal and dedication to your cause.

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jumpin_catfish 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't really have much to say on this topic except ♣Free The Blob♣

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

George - You need a research analyst. The only mandated position is the Superintendent; however, the contracted salary is not mandated.

Let me anticipate:

Are there reports that are required? Yes, that is reflected in the amount of assistants, coordinators, SPED assistants, SPED clerks, SPED secretaries, etc. These are the true workhorses of Administration. You could lose everyone of the high level administrators and the classified personnel will get the reports completed and filed - just as they do now.

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George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Did_I_say_that (anonymous) says... Moderate (George Lippencott) says... Federal funds account for $257,415, plus an additional $46,046 from food services. This $300K is part of the $8,147,411 spent on administrative services.

Thank you. How much of the administrative costs are driven by federal and state mandates?

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PFC 4 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps the majority of city commissioners are looking at the bigger picture. Close neighborhood schools, reduce property values around that school. Close neighborhood schools and the city has to spend its public safety dollars patrolling that school to make sure that it is not vandalized, broken into by HS school students looking for a place to do drugs or have sex, a place for homeless people to "squat" or a grand new hotel for raccoons.

It is also the case that the school board his wildly overestimated the number of empty seats in elementary schools (their numbers are just wrong). It is true that NY has a lower enrollment, but parents at many of the other schools in question will tell you that all our rooms are full and all our kids are in classes that far exceed the district's "goal" of 17 per class in primary education.

Moreover, the areas that surround many of the schools that are threatened are either growing or are on the verge of "turning over" as elderly residents move out. It makes NO sense to shut down schools in areas that are growing.

There are proposals on the table that will get us through this year, which will give us enough time to make a calm rational decision about what to do for the next few years to come. Hastily making PERMANENT changes to a community is just plain stupid.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

@ beobachter - Closing elementary schools has a negative effect on neighborhoods, property value, property tax, and the achievement levels of students. Therefore, it will become a city problem if the School Board chooses to close a school.

♣Free The Blog♣

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beobachter 4 years, 1 month ago

Why doesn't the commission work at solving city problems and let school board work on school problems?

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

Moderate (George Lippencott) says... "...Does anybody know what money pays for whom? Cutting administrators paid out of the federal pot saves nothing??"

Federal funds account for $257,415, plus an additional $46,046 from food services. This $300K is part of the $8,147,411 spent on administrative services.

You have the information, George. What do propose to do with it?

Here is the BOE Program Expenditures list: http://tinyurl.com/yfmtmj9

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Dog 4 years, 1 month ago

Once again I am very disappointed in the commission. They just don't seem to understand that difficult desions require leadership. Our school board is working hard to make some very tough decisions. The problem is that there are not enough children to fill the empty desks in the district. Instead of pushing to keep schools open the commission would be better focused on making Lawrence a more affordable community for families. If we attract more families we fill up our schools.

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jonearle 4 years, 1 month ago

Thanks, City Commissioners (excepting, of course, Mayor Chestnut) for hearing the pleas of the majority of Lawrencians. There are far, far better ways to close a budget gap than closing neighborhood schools. We will remember your courage next election day.

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kugrad 4 years, 1 month ago

Hwy50, I understand the logic of your remarks and you raise an excellent question. The reason it actually does make sense to call for both neighborhood schools and some "smart," targeted boundary changes can be made clear if you take a map of Lawrence, mark a mile or so circle around each elementary, then overlay the current boundary map. New York, for instance, overlaps with other neighborhoods to the west where some students attend other schools actually farther or equidistant from New York. Some of New York's boundary is woods and industrial park. Now most of the schools are in a similar position, so that no one would have to be pulled from close proximity to their school to another farther away to redistribute students. Now look at Langston Hughes' boundary - it extends for miles to the north, so students who attend there pass by Deerfield and Quail Run, both closer, to go to LH (not all, just the ones clustered around Wakarusa north of 9th and 6th and that general area). So, with some targeted changes, as well as perhaps a call for some voluntary options, the district could reboundary without pulling kids out of their neighborhoods. Good question.

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George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Did_I_say_that (anonymous) says... @ Hydra -

Does anybody know what money pays for whom? Cutting administrators paid out of the federal pot saves nothing??

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Jaylee 4 years, 1 month ago

Maybe instead of a plea to the school board, the City, as well as the school board, should collectively send a letter to the federal government (perhaps petitioned by all the neighborhood activists?) politely demanding a piece of the pie?

This community is great for many reasons, but it's commitment to quality education is certainly a main staple.

I'm with Chestnut on this one. A letter from the City to the School Board will solve virtually nothing other than formally announce in written form the City's figurative backing for the Board keeping the schools open.

We need good lawyers or whomever would take said responsibility for writing a government bailout request.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

@ PopcoRN - Board Members have discussed that. They do not believe that the savings would be significant. Teacher salaries would remain the same since they are contracted for hours of instruction. Hourly employees would still work the same amount of hours, just less days. Food service would be neutral since there would be no income for meals. The only real savings is from transportation; and, since the District does not have a large percentage of bussed children savings would be minimal.

♣Free The Blog♣

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Kelly Johnson 4 years, 1 month ago

I know I've seen the idea of a 4 day school week discussed. How significant would that be financially?

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gl0ck0wn3r 4 years, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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xeniahawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Seems like our bureaucratic heavy administration laden system is imploding yet they continue to trot out bond issues and the masses keep voting them in without any accountability. Didn't this band of bureaucrats just find enough money to build two brand new football stadiums and redo the astroturf at Free State baseball stadium????? Seems like there is plenty of money to go around but when the state starts tightening down, then the talk turns to laying off teachers, closing down schools and eliminating bus service, yet we have the millions for new sports facilities. Maybe, just a thought, we could eliminate all of the administrators at McDonald Drive that make more than the governor of Kansas in annual salary. We could then easily find the money since no one is holding them accountable anyway!!! While we are at it, let's get a whole new school board that has more sense and has the courage to stand up to these mealy mouthed administrators who double talk their way into justifying their own jobs without any care for the children of our district.

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deskboy04 4 years, 1 month ago

Remember when the city wrote a letter complaining about the new coal plants in Western Kansas? Isn't it nice that the city commission is so involved in everyone's business?

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beaujackson 4 years, 1 month ago

The city commission is responsible for the demise of Centennial school because they approved zoning that allows multiple unrelated student-rental housing IN SINGLE FAMILY ZONED NEIGHBORHOODS!

This faulty zoning ordinance has caused an exit of families in much of central Lawrence.

No families, no kids, no need for schools.

Blame the city commission, not the school board, which (only) reacts to circumstances beyond their control.

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conservative 4 years, 1 month ago

If my information is wrong about what the school can accomodate I appologize. It was given to me by a friend. Bottom line is that we are paying for administration personnell and custodial at too many schools. We don't have the number of students to keep all those schools open. It is ridiculous to have 15 schools funnelling into 4 jr highs. And yes it isn't just by closing schools the district should cut the budget. Get rid of early dismissal Wednesdays. Cut the fat at the district offices. The problem is people are looking at it like the 5 million is the only number that matters. Cut everywhere you can and then see what the budget really is. With the savings you can provide better education materials to the students.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

"...becomes less germane to the argument."

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

@ Hwy50 - Look at the boundary maps as they are currently drawn. You will see that they already blur neighborhoods. Here it is: http://www.usd497.org/AboutUs/2007.08Documents/elementaryboundary.pdf

The point, however, was that the cost per pupil is calculated based upon a mathematical driver that is manipulated by Administration and the School Board. The cost per pupil, therefore, becomes germane to the argument.

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Hwy50 4 years, 1 month ago

Crying "Save our neighborhood schools!" and "Change the boundaries" at the same time doesn't make sense. Pulling kids out of their "neighborhood school" into another to "save it" defeats the purpose.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 1 month ago

@ Hydra - No one can see why Lawrence has to spend $8M for administration. Worse yet, it appears that the School Board is not willing to question it either; they accept the $250K cut in administration as being deep and painful. The fact is $4M could be cut and the system would keep humming along.

♣Free The Blog♣

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Hydra 4 years, 1 month ago

I guess I'm just dumb! I can't see why Lawrence has to spend 8 mil a year for administration.

I suppose there must be administrative responsibities in Lawrence that smaller school districts don't have. I sure the legislature must have passed some bill requireing large expenditures for larger districts.

I mean what administrative duties do we have to comply with that say Eudora or McClouth don't?

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kugrad 4 years, 1 month ago

To make my point clearer, it is true that boundary decisions are the reason New York is a one-section school (except for one grade level, which has 2 sections). The building is nowhere near capacity. When East Heights was closed, the district anticipated NY getting more students than it did (when you close schools, people go where they want to, not where you tell them). Some went to Prairie Moon, some to Kennedy, some to Eudora, some transferred to other schools in the district not mentioned, and some home-schooled. NY can hold 2 classes per grade.

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kugrad 4 years, 1 month ago

Conservative, you are wrong. New York DOES have the space for 2 classes per grade. There is no building in the district that does not have space for 2 classes per grade. I guarantee this information is correct, call and ask the principal if you don't believe me.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

George, excellent comment and very funny!

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cheeseburger 4 years, 2 months ago

Good one Boston and not_that_crazy!

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kugrad 4 years, 2 months ago

No One-eye, the reason that businesses locate in Johnson County is that businesses want to be in communities that have excellent, well-funded public schools, that invest in their infrastructure and so on. You see, the places with the lowest taxes just don't attract the most industry. It just is a myth, a poor economic policy that has been disproven many times over. Businesses are not lining up to leave Lawrence. In fact, the North 2nd corridor has more businesses than it used to, not less. I lived 1/2 block off the N. 2nd for years, so I know.

Bottom line, when confronted with facts about where businesses are locating, you have no response, just a bunch of conjecture. Businesses want well-educated workforces, at least good-paying businesses do. Sure, you might lose that minimum-wage paying warehouse, but you'll gain a workplace employing people with a living wage. You'll probably keep both.

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not_that_crazy 4 years, 2 months ago

"Boston_Corbett (anonymous) says... And in return I heard the School Board was considering writing a letter to the city commission about the poor state of city roads, the snow shoveling ordinance, and the Santa Fe railroad depot."

Okay, pretty funny.
And a letter for approving yet another new, massive apartment complex and housing subdivision father and farther away from these 'beloved' neighborhoods and "neighborhood schools."

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

conservative (anonymous) says... "That is what the district is determining with their studies."

In other words, when you said, "All schools that can't accomodate [sic] at least two classes per grade level should be closed," you did not know anything about the actual subject. That is the problem. The District administration is putting out information that will help it achieve its end goals: build mega-schools and preserve administration jobs. There are no schools in the District that can not accommodate some two section grades.

Again, the equation driver - student population, can be equalized at all schools with boundary changes.

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Boston_Corbett 4 years, 2 months ago

And in return I heard the School Board was considering writing a letter to the city commission about the poor state of city roads, the snow shoveling ordinance, and the Santa Fe railroad depot.

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spiderd 4 years, 2 months ago

Conservative- The district is succeeding in getting you to look at this as a one issue topic.
Bravo to them and shame on you.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

The commissioners may need to find ways to support USD 497.

Neither City/County government nor USD 497 can afford further reductions in property values... no way jose'. That would be a not smart business decision.

Further reductions in property values mean increase in taxes/user fees to make up the loss.

Further reductions in property values can add more homeowners to the long list of those who owe more than property will bring ........ quite typical of "boom town economics". There are plenty of these homes scattered throughout Lawrence. This situation could place more in bankruptcy.

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conservative 4 years, 2 months ago

That is what the district is determining with their studies. I know that New York school doesn't have the space for more than one class per grade and it is costing around 6000 per student to educate as opposed to 4200 at schools like deerfield and sunflower. Numbers were in a previous article on this subject.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

@ conservative - Which schools, due to building size, are incapable of being two section schools? What is their current number of empty desks?

♣Free The Blog♣

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Steve Jacob 4 years, 2 months ago

We elected the school board, the city commission should have no more input then we do. We elected the board to run the schools, they should have the final say after all is heard.

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conservative 4 years, 2 months ago

Changing boundaries does not change the maximum number of students a school can handle. Every school has administration personnel that contribute to the cost of the school. You pay a principal whether their are 6 classes, 12, 18 etc. In addition support personnel at each school, and resource teachers that spend more time in cars than classrooms. There are significant additional costs to operating tiny schools. That is why all the new buildings that have been built handle multiple classes per grade.

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oneeye_wilbur 4 years, 2 months ago

kugrad, you must have gotten one of those degrees that was handed out when Chalmers was Chancellor. Anyway, that is the problem, many who pay property taxes to Lawrence do not live here and they will vote with their pocket book. They will move on, take their business elsewhere and the jobs with them. So not only will Lawrence have vacant commerical buildings(paying the highest taxes) Lawrence will not have the jobs that once were in those buidlings.

Lots of vacant commercial now along N.2nd the gateway to the city from the North. Vacant buildings and old junkyards.

Business locates in Johnson county for many reasons, but the top dogs of companies who choose to live where the businesses are also choose a community/an area that is ameniable to the spouses.

Ask the head of LMH if his wife really wants to live in Lawrence? Cedar Creek is more ameniable. Johnson county is accesed by major highways, 435, 735, I 35, I-70 69, they all alllow the opportunity for a work force to be employed coming from surrounding communities. It would not take much for Lawrence to lose much of it's workforce which now comes from Leavenworth County, Jefferson County, Franklin County and even some from the west edge of Johnson County aka Desoto area.

Too bad the Journal World doesnt write an inclusive story about the labor force working in Lawrence. It would be extremely revealing where they come from. Not Lawrence. In fact, one might even find out that the J/W staff doesn't live in Lawrence proper, well some of them. Why?

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kugrad 4 years, 2 months ago

Wilbur is, once again, demonstrably wrong. If his argument was right, business owners would locate in the places with the lowest property taxes and least support for education by local taxpayers. Instead, we find the exact opposite is true. The 10 highest growth counties in the state are all also the counties with the highest tax rates (this info provided by a State Representative at the local eggs and issues breakfast earlier this month). In fact, the number one county for new business developement is also #1 for taxes - Johnson County. So, another arm-chair economist theory disproven.

Wilbur, you don't vote here, you don't live here, why do you keep posting here? Post about Eudora. where you live and have a say.

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oneeye_wilbur 4 years, 2 months ago

Cheeseburger, Lawrence has a city commission that quite frankly needs to resign. They cannot make a decision. It is interesting that some are business owners so, given that, how would they feel if local residents starting sending letters to the state and various agencies that these "business" owners have contact with. The purpose of the letters would be to "interfere" with their business operations. Mr. Chestnut is correct if his quote is honest and on board. OR are the commissioners all just riding the fence and doing something to make it look like they are doing something. They need to say NO, "we have other business and the school district has theirs".

Where is the city manager on this nonsense? He needs to take a stance. He is supposed to lead the city. Oh sure at the will of the commisson, but he can also make his position known.Not one commissioner has the guts to say NO, but YES,when they believe they will profit from it. Don't think for a minute that there are not some back alley politics at work in this consideration of sending the letter. The same kind of nonsense that went on with the realtors and the rebuilding of South as I was told about. True or False? South got rebuilt due to a bond issue that was ill conceived and the one before it. And now the district is in a quandry.

The commission will continue to run off business investment that will bring jobs to the community. They must begin to understand where the finanances come from. They surely don't!

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years, 2 months ago

@ Conservative - Your assumption is that the neighborhood or local school chooses the driver in the cost per pupil equation. They do not; boundaries do that. A simple change of boundaries would equalize the cost per pupil. That does not solve the issue. Closing schools does not resolve the budget crisis. The district has a history of closing schools to meet a budget shortfall; they have yet to actually reduce costs after closing schools. In 2003 the district closed three schools. Since then, the District has increased cost over twice the rate of COLA.

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sweetiepie 4 years, 2 months ago

conservative: All schools that can't accomodate at least two classes per grade level should be closed

What is the reasoning behind this statement?

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cheeseburger 4 years, 2 months ago

Agreed Wilbur - the city has enough to worry about on their own plate without interfering in the matters of the school district. The letter does not need to be sent, as the school district does not want to close schools either. If they do go ahead with the letter, I hope they are equally happy when the school district meddles in the affairs of the city sometime in the future. Get your own house in order before worrying about someone elses!

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oneeye_wilbur 4 years, 2 months ago

Let the city commission support this lame idea. Then they can sit back and wonder why they cannot attract jobs to the community. They will eventually figure out that employers do not want to come to a city that has over 50% of it's local property taxes going to a public employer.

It just won't work!

How much would each commissioner be willing to pay in higher real estate property taxes? Let's hear that amount and then they can donate that money to Save Our Schools.

In the Army when had another explanation/definition of SOS, or was it SOL or both.

This is a commission that cannot fix streets , cannot improve the older areas of town even though they have funneled from the feds millions of dollars only to neglect these older areas where the schools are, and now they want to save the schools and do they honestly believe that the schools will ever have full enrollment? Do they?

This commission is beginning to look like they are being led by Mr. Funkhouser who wants to save the schools in KCMO.

The commisson needs to stay out of the operation of the school district, given that they can hardly operate the day to day workings of the city.

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conservative 4 years, 2 months ago

All schools that can't accomodate at least two classes per grade level should be closed. If the neighborhoods really believe they are important let them set up special benefit districts to fund the extra 2000 per student those small schools are costing.

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