At last week’s meeting, Lawrence school board president Scott Morgan put up a map of Lawrence with a 1.5-mile circle around Fraser Hall.
The high point of the city was once near the center of Lawrence. Today, that circle includes nine of the district’s 15 elementary schools, but only about 30 percent of the district’s 5,200 elementary students.
Morgan, who has come up with the most specific plans about closing schools as the district tries to close a $5 million budget gap, has gained criticism from people who don’t want the district to close any schools.
But he says older school buildings built before 1967 in central and east Lawrence put the district in a tough position, especially when it has had to make budget cuts twice in the last decade.
“We can’t just rest on what was built in the ’50s,” Morgan said. “We’ve got to look at it, and occasionally we might think about how we might want to make it work for our current period.”
He says district leaders should work with neighborhoods in central Lawrence on a long-term plan because so many of the elementary school buildings need upgrades.
Morgan says future suggestions could include turning New York School, the district’s smallest elementary, into a magnet school. And he said it could include upgrading buildings, like at Cordley, or consolidating schools, like Sunset Hill and Hillcrest, into a newer school. But it all would be done while working with neighborhoods, he said.
“(A new school) doesn’t mean bigger. It just means built with the kind of rooms we need today,” Morgan said.
He has already drawn criticism because at the same meeting last week, Morgan mentioned a scenario to save money for next year, including closing Wakarusa Valley School and Sunset Hill.
The group Save Our Neighborhood Schools and other parents say the board should tighten its budget in other areas, including district and school administration, to save $5 million without closing any schools.
Even though a majority of board members last week said they were willing to at least look at closing schools to save money, several said administrators needed to develop a specific criteria before board members discuss which schools to close.