Letters to the Editor

Think again

January 16, 2010

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To the editor:

So the debate begins on the budget gap for Lawrence’s schools. Predictably, it’s centering on closing schools. In the interest of making sure we are truly looking at all possible solutions, I suggest the following: Close Langston Hughes.

Surely no elementary school in the district comes close to the cost of maintaining the 50 acres of grounds Langston Hughes sits on, especially compared to the few city blocks other schools occupy. Snow removal costs alone must be tremendous.

For the students, adjustment would be minimal. They and their parents already have to drive to get to everything else in their lives. What is another hour or so a day on a bus? Plus, more time on the bus means parents pay for less baby-sitting time and other after-school care programs.

And since these discussions usually focus on short-term gains while ignoring the long-term consequences to the community, we could surely save a lot by simply defaulting on any outstanding bonds or debt accrued in the building of Langston Hughes. New York, Cordley and Kennedy have been paid off for decades. In amortized terms, they will be cheaper to operate for generations.

So there you go. Maybe not the solution you expected, but that’s the point. Hopefully it will cause people to be a bit less myopic about the possibilities facing us, and to look at ideas (returning to full day Wednesdays, thereby shortening the school year a week and a half, perhaps?) that fall outside the lines of our typical reactions to a crisis like this.

Comments

BMI 5 years, 3 months ago

I totally agree with this LTE. The kids were already at other schools, put them back. Leave New York alone. And I say this as the parent of a Langston Hughes student.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

At one meeting it was noted by school officials that some larger Lawrence elementary schools cost about $3800 to educate each student. Whereas one smaller east side schools cost about $6000. USD 497 has been receiving more than $6000 per student by way of Topeka.

Apparently larger schools are not spending the money provided to educate those students which provides about a $2200 surplusX500 Langston Hughes students = $1,100,000 surplus. Moving those surplus funds to 125 New York School students provides another $8,800 per student which in reality reduces the cost of educating New York Students to zero. Actually creates a rather large surplus.

Langston Hughes only cost USD 497 approximately $3800 per student according to school officials

Again USD 497 receives at least $6000 per Student no matter how many students are in what school. USD 497 receives $750,000 annually to operate New York School for 125 students. Teachers are likely being paid $29,000 to $40,000 a year ….. not a great deal of money.

There is no way USD 497 is losing money. Lawrence is not losing money because New York School has the ultimate class size for so called lower income at risk neighborhoods.

Also bear in mind USD 497 has been encouraging retirement of tenured teaching staff over the past several years thus reducing the cost of operation substantially.

Want to raise money? Sell the extravagant USD 497 admin building? A real estate deal that never should have happened.

Sell the admin building to help offset the cost of running all of the new athletic facilities. How much does that increase the cost of operations?

tjajmom 5 years, 3 months ago

Schools receive a little over $4,000 per student. Where did you get the $6,000 figure?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

USD 497 could be receiving a total of:

  • $68,893,880

  • $66,556,666

or

$63,910,759

USD 497 does not know yet.

If one of the first two scenarios materializes when dividing the first two scenarios by 10,668.9 USD 497 students the district is receiving more than $6000 per student. So it appears.

The last scenario will produce $5990.38 per student( $9.62 short of $6000).

The dollar amounts and student enrollment number come from a state education site.

With a payroll of 5,500,000 a month according to school officals = $66,000,000 means USD 497 could be short $2,089,241 using the lowest dollar funding number. However USD 497 has $7,000,000(million) in at least one "contingency" fund.... according to school officials.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Due to lack of consistency at the state level perhaps USD 497 needs to cut the reactionary approach and think long term.

Closing useful school buildings is not a long term approach. What will it be next year or the year after?

How about USD 497 voters supporting a USD 497 user fee to supplement teaching salaries, either eliminate or substantially reduce school fees and support public education to the point where no teacher would need to purchase supplies out of pocket necessary to reach the student?

Here is a possible tool to save the day. USD 497 needs too do something until the Kansas legislature does a 180.

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 80% of 5,198 participants said yes! Name it a user fee.

This number 5,198 is an extremely high response for any JW poll.

Why not organize around saving teacher salaries and the quality of USD 497? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

This letter is very disappointing. It is simply class warfare at its worst. No wonder our politics have degenerated into such a sorry state. I hope this individual’s thoughts are not broadly endorsed by the community. I believe our community leaders should do more to discourage this kind of thinking, even to the extent of going public. If we have to close schools, economics should be the basis for our decision. This community is simply not that large and our schools are in general well run so that no one will be really hurt by a shuffle.

KSManimal 5 years, 3 months ago

The fact of the matter is USD 497 can't spend money they don't have. The solution to the problem lies not in Lawrence, but in Topeka - under the green dome.

Most folks who write letters or post comments here seem to have all the answers. However, with most suggestions (shorter year, fewer administrators, etc.,..) it appears people's math is off by a decimal place or two. We're talking about 4 MILLION DOLLARS. Not $4 K, not $400K. $4 MILLION. If Kansas government doesn't increase revenue but instead cuts funding even further, we're looking at nearly $8 MILLION.

There is no way USD 497 is going to save $4 million, let alone $8 million, by cutting a few administrators or doing away with spring break, etc. Not going to happen.

If the idea of closing schools bothers you, contact your legislators and the governor. They are the only people who have the power to change things.

Charles L Bloss Jr 5 years, 3 months ago

Do away with all schools, educate them at home. Save taxpayers a fortune! Thank you, Lynn

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Want to raise money? Sell the extravagant USD 497 admin building? A real estate deal that never should have happened.

Sell the admin building to help offset the cost of running all of the new athletic facilities. How much does that increase the cost of operations?

Move into the virtual school building...

Stephen Roberts 5 years, 3 months ago

Maybe we should tax people who mow lawns?? It could allow people on this forum to see less of Merrill's cut & paste rants.

See their is a good side of having a tax increase.

kugrad 5 years, 3 months ago

No neighborhood schools should be closed, including Langston Hughes.

That being said, I want to point out that it is the district that built schools out west when there was room in other schools. Why? Because the citizens of Lawrence have always preferred neighborhood schools. Now the schools east of Iowa all have some room for additional students and the schools west of Iowa are generally full. So, it makes some sense to think about increasing the cost-per-pupil efficiency of the schools in the east by redistricting to move some students east.

If you have ever looked at the boundary map, you would see that the boundaries for west-side schools are very odd looking. Why? Because when new, quite expensive, homes were built in the area north and northwest of Free State High, the district somehow determined that the 'neighborhood' school for these homes in Langston Hughes, despite the fact that they have to drive past Quail Run on their way there and that they are closer to Deerfield. So, there is some reasonableness to the argument in the original letter that LH isn't exactly a 'neighborhood' school.

Why were these homes put into the LH district? It could be that they wanted to group these weatlhy home owners with the wealthy homeowners who live by the actual school. It is quite possible. I'd suggest a more benign reason, Deerfield and Quail Run were aleady full and the district administration shudders at the thought of redistricting.Why do they shudder? It is politically difficult.

Bottom line: the district superintendant and other administrators would prefer not to redistrict because it is politically difficult; it affects more people than just shutting down a school. It is politically EASIER to shut a school. I hope the board will reject this thinking and promote a solution that spreads the change around and keeps our tradition of neighborhood schools intact.

funkdog1 5 years, 3 months ago

This LTE isn't about class warfare. It's about East Lawrence vs. West Lawrence.

As a person who lives on the west side, I'd like to officially let all the folks on the east side know that we really do care. I know it's hard to absorb, but it's true. I have had multiple conversations with other west-side parents whose kids go to Deerfield, Lanston Hughes and Quail Run and none of us want to see neighborhood schools close anywhere.

As far as west side people being "used to driving" I have to beg to differ. We've lived all over town--in the Pinckney neighborhood, near the Hy-Vee at 23rd & Kasold and now the west side. We're now far closer to downtown than we were at 23rd & Kasold. We frequent downtown for shopping and eating. We also happen to like Henry T's and Thai Siam here on the west side.

There may be a "west vs. east" at city hall, but there are plenty of middle class--not rich--Lawrencians who live on the west side and actually give a damn about what goes on in town.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

funkdog,

That's good to hear.

I hope there are enough Lawrence residents overall who care about the town as a whole rather than simply their little part of it.

If they all vote, we may have a chance.

funkdog1 5 years, 3 months ago

Let me qualify what I said by adding that there are probably plenty of "rich" people on the west side who care about school closings as well. I just don't happen to hobnob with any of them.

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 3 months ago

Marion, the non-Douglas County resident who doesn't pay any property taxes anywhere......

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

funkdog1 (Anonymous) says…

All the rich people are on the west side?? Seems like a lot of middle income folk out here. Could we be into class warfare again. East-West boils down to haves ve. have nots or class warfare!!

uneekness 5 years, 3 months ago

The point is very simply that we are about to embark on this process by first limiting the number of solutions available to the predictable "close the poor kids' school" argument. But how would those out west feel if the only lens we viewed the cost of educating children through had to take into account the cost of building the school? After all, those dollars gotta come from somewhere. Suddenly they are in the crosshairs, and no amount of arguing or showing of different ways of measuring the "true" cost will sway the school board. Perhaps then they could understand the frustration felt by parents at the older neighborhood schools.

Marion has a point about the astroturf. Things like the sports complex and the property purchase near the SLT come out of funds from a separate budget that can't be used for current operations due to state law. Why aren't we in Topeka trying to get a temporary reprieve for a year or two? The current situation is like continuing to put money away for a vacation when you're about to default on the mortgage. Again: look outside the ordinary to find solutions.

Oh, and funkdog, I don't doubt you like where you live. That wasn't my point. I work downtown and walk or ride my bike to work. We are two blocks from my daughter's school and her doctor & pharmacy, about a half mile from the pool and library. Grocery necessities are a few blocks away at convenience stores in a pinch. My point was that folks near LH have to drive everywhere, no matter what. There have been times my car hasn't left the driveway for a week. Not even counting going to your job, I doubt you've been able to go twelve hours without using yours.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

uneekness (Anonymous) says…

Another east-west babble. Any useful suggestions? Maybe those who want high cost schools should pay a special fee to support them??

kugrad 5 years, 3 months ago

It would be good for people to write their state legislators regarding a temporary loosening of restrictions on the capital outlay fund. However, don't expect the laws to change. Don't expect the legislature to respond to this suggestion. First of all, it is barely on their radar even with districts raising the issue. Second, they have shown very little flexibility in regards to similar suggestions in the past. I would put the chances of them allowing this at just slightly above zero.

Moderate, those who want neighborhood schools DO pay a fee to support them; taxes. Remember, the smaller schools were there first. They could hold more students when the district chose to build neighborhood schools in newer neighborhoods out west. This is the point of the whole redistricting argument: The district chooses for those schools to be more costly by choosing to maintain current boundaries. If they changed boundaries and placed more students in those schools, the cost per pupil would go down. Therefore, it is disingenous to use the cost of an unfilled school as a reason for closing it.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

kugrad (Anonymous) says…

I think you missed the point or chose to.

Taxes are higher when we support unusually high cost schools. The district's data shows LH much cheaper per kid than New York. Economics must play in the decision.

I believe in neighborhood schools. Wish there was a real definition. How far does one have to be away from the school to not be attending a neighborhood school? If for example New York was closed would the length of the ride/walk increase to outside the definition??

I also do not know whether New York is more expensive per the district or whether that date is impacted by special needs and other special programs that are in greater need on the east side.

My issue in this thread is the east west battle, not the cost of schools. I reject the notion of a zero sum game where my side wins by hurting the kids on the east side. I also reject the reverse! It was people defending New York who started the east-west battle and who defined the west side as "rich" and I guess therefore undeserving of LH???

My sympathy wanes when people make such self serving and discriminatory arguments

funkdog1 5 years, 3 months ago

uneekness: I'm not sure what driving has to do with a discussion about neighborhood schools, but you got me. We do have to drive almost everywhere from our house, though I work from home and there are days I don't leave. When my child is older, I do plan to walk her to school sometimes. Right now her 7-year-old legs are still a little short.

I would like to put forth an idea as to why so many families have moved out west: we can't afford to live in East or Old West Lawrence. That's right. Those big old rambling houses or (or sometimes not big, but just old) cost a fair amount to maintain, and that's tough to afford when you've got kids to pay for. It seems to me that East and Old West Lawrence are being occupied more and more by students, retirees, childless couples, roommate-type situations and singles, and often the houses are owned by slumlords. New houses may not be as pretty, but you're not dealing with 80+ year old infrastructure, either.

You can argue about closing schools on the west side because they were the last to be added, but the fact is, that's where the kids are. Deerfield is the most populated grade school in the district. In fact, we can't go to all day kindergarten because we don't have the room to add two more kindergarten teachers. (We'd need four!)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

"Maybe those who want high cost schools should pay a special fee to support them??"

Everyone in town is paying for the new schools out west, while the ones on the east side have been largely paid for for decades.

So let's look at the whole equation, not just one that skews the newer schools into looking cheaper than they really are.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus (Anonymous) says…

Another east west argument. The high cost of street and sewer and water maintenance on the east because of their age works in the other direction.

I might also observe that people in the west pay more taxes.

I really think it is way past time for this have -have not discussion. It is disgusting but so like Lawrence with its deep sense of entitlement!

What is best for the kids within our ability to pay is the issue and the only issue.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

"The high cost of street and sewer and water maintenance on the east because of their age works in the other direction."

Most of the really high costs are because it's deferred maintenance-- deferred because for so long so much of the money that should have been spent maintaining existing infrastructure has been spent subsidizing sprawl.

"What is best for the kids within our ability to pay is the issue and the only issue."

It would appear that you are saying that even though leaving the kids in their neighborhood schools, because it might cost a little more, what's best for the kids will not be what makes the final decision.

funkdog1 5 years, 3 months ago

George - You're certainly not "moderate" when you're throw out phrases like Lawrence's so-called "sense of entitlement". I call it a sense of compassion. It's the reason we kept the T even though we're having to dig a little deeper into our pockets to pay for it.

There are plenty of people in town who could afford to pay more to keep neighborhood schools. As it is with the current budget cuts, teachers and schools all over town are being forced to cut back on the few supplies they have access to and that includes paper. (And paper is pretty necessary when it comes to the teaching process.) I have never, and will never, resent having to pay taxes to fund schools, even when I don't have a child in public school.

Our family is willing to pay more in taxes to help keep schools open in east Lawrence.

uneekness 5 years, 3 months ago

funkdog1

Pinckney once had over 500 students, when it had a lot of first-generation housing to its northwest, just like Deerfield now. LH will be a much smaller school after this initial bulge of first generation homeowners ages out as well.

The point is that the older schools are in mature neighborhoods that are stable mix of older, lifelong residents (after all, you don't expect to move after your kids are done with the school to make way for new parents, do you?), and younger families, and the school's enrollment has been steady for a long time. The school is one of the things that keeps younger families coming in - and helps reduce the need for new schools in new developments. Most of the neighborhoods east of Iowa St are in this cycle. Remove the school, and families tend to pass it over, (putting the neighborhood at risk of decline,) and subtly maneuvering the families into newer developments - "close to the schools". None of this is done nefariously as part of a grand scheme, just a series of small decisions that started when people were only given one way to look at the costs of running schools.

Old West may have some expensive properties, but those few square blocks are the exception, not the rule. There are very few expensive properties surrounding New York, or Cordley, or north of 6th street near Pinckney. As for the driving, everyone assumes that it's no big deal to shovel the kids in a bus to school everyday. Maybe it's not to those who drive everywhere. But for those of us who bought a place specifically to avoid having to drive everywhere, every day, all the time, it is a very big deal.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

I said I am not arguing about schools but about the east west battle.

A sense of entitlement is when you argue that somebody else should pay for something you want! You want it you pay for it!

Tony Kisner 5 years, 3 months ago

Hold on, Lanston is on the west side of town. What is up with that?

You guys on the east side may be smarter than we are but we got more stuff and that is what matters.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

"A sense of entitlement is when you argue that somebody else should pay for something you want!"

Yep, that's how it's been in Lawrence sprawlville for a long time.

honestone 5 years, 3 months ago

Let me ask a question... how many schools are there east of kentucky... now divide that by 23rd street... KUGRAD and uneekness understand

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