School closing criteria
Lawrence school board members haven’t decided whether they will close any elementary schools. But administrators are making a list so that board members can compare schools if they need to.
The list for each school includes how many students a building can hold; current enrollment; age of the building and its major renovations; special programs at the school; its proximity to other buildings; how far the building could expand and its square footage; and whether the school made Adequate Yearly Progress on its math and reading assessment tests.
On Tuesday, members of the district’s Equity Council asked administrators to provide board members with other information, like how many students would be displaced and the range of distances students would need to travel to get to their new school.
Nothing brought the crowd to its feet this time.
Compared with Monday night when school district patrons at Central Junior High were united against closing any schools, the Lawrence school board’s final budget forum Tuesday at West Junior High was more of a back-and-forth.
A large contingent of speakers Tuesday still pleaded with board members to keep all schools open and make other cuts to close their expected $5 million budget gap. Several other parents warned board members about the effects of creating larger class sizes at the district’s larger schools, such as Quail Run and Langston Hughes.
Everett Ledbetter said all of the district’s elementary schools were academic success stories for the district and needed to stay open.
“Why would we rush to mess that up?” asked Ledbetter, a Sunset Hill parent who represented a group that included other parents and the Sunset Hills Neighborhood Association.
But Kitty Ware, a Langston Hughes parent, asked board members to not increase the student-teacher ratio for savings.
“Increasing class size would disproportionately hurt schools at or near capacity enrollment,” she said.
Because of the state’s budget crisis, board members are considering how to cut at least $5 million before next school year. A majority of board members have said they were willing to at least consider closing schools to help make up the shortfall. It would save the district between $400,000 and $600,000 to close one school.
Board members are also a pondering how deep to go on a list of about $3 million in administrative and school program cuts that range from $250,000 in cuts to district administration to having fewer librarians, guidance counselors and nurses.
Raising the student-teacher ratio is the other main cut option on the table. The district can save about $1 million and cut about 20 teaching jobs for each increase by one student. This also would mean larger elementary classes and fewer junior high and high school courses.
The group Save Our Neighborhood Schools and others have urged board members to make other cuts but keep schools open.
Board President Scott Morgan last week mentioned a scenario that included closing Sunset Hill and Wakarusa Valley for next year. Several parents from those schools addressed board members at this week’s forums.
Geri Hartley, the Sunset Hill PTO president, on Tuesday said the school has had to cope with a smaller building for 20 years because the district hasn’t upgraded its elementary schools.
“We’ve been dealing with it because we’ve been told ‘it’s coming,’ ‘you’re on the list’ or ‘give us three years’ or ‘next time’,” she said.
Jo Andersen, a former Lawrence mayor, said the city is known for its “healthy urban core” because of its neighborhoods and their schools. She said some cuts to school programs and teaching jobs might cause lower test scores the next few years but said those cuts could be restored when the economy turns around.
“Think about your legacy; make the decision that can be reversed,” Andersen said.
Morgan said he didn’t want his “legacy” to be lower test scores for a couple of years.
“That is that child’s only chance to have that,” he said. “Those kids are not a number. Those kids are individual humans.”
Board members listened to audience members for most of the forum, but they did respond to some questions. Board members defended cutting much deeper into district administration.
“There isn’t a huge red flag that we just have ungodly fat sitting in the administration and that we’re just ungodly fools,” Morgan said.
Rich Minder and Vanessa Sanburn have said they want to make cuts without closing neighborhood schools.
“I personally think that’s what the majority of the community is asking for, and I’m comfortable as a single board member making that happen,” Sanburn said.
Board member Bob Byers said no board members want to close schools, but he said the severity of the budget crisis has forced them to consider the option.
“My stopping point is I will not undereducate our children across the district in order to save a school,” Byers said.
Board members will discuss their budget cut options again at the 7 p.m. Monday meeting at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.