As closure fears circulate, New York patrons rally around their school

Students leave New York School on Tuesday. Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll joined a meeting of the school’s site council Tuesday night, where concerned patrons and neighbors urged him not to close any schools to alleviate budget constraints.

New York School has the smallest enrollment in the Lawrence school district. But Monday night, during a regularly scheduled site council meeting, parents and east Lawrence community members filled the school’s library to standing-room-only capacity to make sure school leaders know how they feel about their neighborhood school.

“It’s just not New York that we don’t want to close. We don’t want to close any school,” New York PTO President Nicole Allensworth said. “We’re a community over here.”

Superintendent Rick Doll was on hand to present the school board’s goals for the near future to the school’s site council, but the question-and-answer session turned to potential school closings.

“This is where it gets ugly,” Doll said. “You’re not going to get to $4 million by trimming around the edges.”

School board President Scott Morgan and member Vanessa Sanburn were also on hand to hear the community’s concerns.

“The message I got, which I knew, but I think it always helps to hear, is just what a strong community New York Elementary has,” Morgan said. “Beyond the people that have kids here, this is a neighborhood that cares very deeply about the school.”

The district needs to cut another $3 million to make up budget shortfalls from the state for this school year, and faces a $4 million deficit heading into the 2010-11 school year. Doll said the two ways to get big chunks of money are raising class sizes and closing schools.

“The only reason west side schools aren’t being talked about is because they are full,” Doll said.

Doll said the district could save anywhere from $400,000 to $600,000 by closing one school.

New York School has about 130 students and Doll said it costs $2,000 more to educate one student compared with other elementary schools in the district.

But parents and neighborhood members don’t want the board to give up on them.

“It’s great that we have the community’s support,” Allensworth said. “Just as a small school, we know that we made a difference being here.”

The board will have a study session Monday before its regular meeting to get more information on potential budget cuts.