In the current budget crisis, it’s only right for school districts to look at the financial impact of any decision they make.
However, the possibility of saving a few dollars shouldn’t always be the deciding factor.
Last August, the Lawrence school board decided to more closely examine the possibility of moving district ninth-graders to the high schools and sixth-graders to junior highs/middle schools. Their plan, was to look at the pros and cons of the move independent of any budget constraints. “It was never intended to be discussed together,” Supt. Rick Doll said Tuesday.
Unfortunately, the pressures of reduced state funding have put budget considerations front and center in almost every school discussion. The possibility of saving even a modest amount of money by reconfiguring the schools was enough to make some board members think about speeding up the process. Instead of taking a year to look at the change and aim for implementation in fall of 2011, some board members wanted to look at making the change in fall 2010.
Doll says the district may be able to gain some efficiencies by better balancing class sizes and moving classes like sixth-grade band to the middle schools. However, he added, “That’s not the main point. The point is to do what’s best for kids.”
A couple of factors argue for taking a year to make this transition. First, district teachers and staff need time to prepare for the move especially for sixth-graders. A new middle school model should involve a re-evaluation of how classes are organized. For instance, one sixth-grade teacher quoted in Sunday’s Journal-World noted that middle schools usually put students in teams and pair them with core teachers who know them individually. That makes sense, but it’s a different approach.
Speeding up the shift also may have minimal impact on the district budget. The savings from reconfiguring the schools are expected to be relatively modest and might be largely offset this year by the costs of actually implementing the change.
Lawrence is the last school in the state not to have four-year high schools, and Doll said he thinks “there is some momentum in the community” to make the change. It’s good for the school board to be seriously looking at this shift, but it’s important to get it right. Rushing the implementation of the plan in hopes of saving a little money is false economy.