Advocates of neighborhood elementary schools breathed sighs of relief earlier this month when Lawrence school board members cut $4.6 million from the budget without closing any schools for next school year.
As part of that deal, board members will appoint a task force to study the district’s elementary buildings, the repairs they might need and their capacities, especially in case more budget cuts are on the horizon for the 2011-2012 school year.
“It’s balancing the idea that we’d like to keep our neighborhood school concept with the idea that the financial restraints that are placed upon us now are putting more and more pressures on us to become efficient,” Superintendent Rick Doll said.
District administrators are still putting the framework together for who will serve on the task force, but they expect to begin taking applications soon.
“Our task would be to make sure we have a broad range of people on the committee,” Doll said. “It would be helpful if people would come with an open mind so they could look at a lot of different options.”
Right now administrators are considering a group of 20 to 25 community members, likely including two board members. Consultants from an architectural and long-range planning firm will likely be in the mix as well.
“One of the advantages of using an outside consultant is they don’t have the ties to the community, and they are not tied in to one position or another,” Doll said. “They’ll come in with an open mind and listen, plus they bring some expertise.”
Administrators hope board members can approve the makeup of the committee soon so they can begin sending out applications. Board members would approve the framework of the committee and the membership, Doll said.
Doll wants to have the task force in place before this summer. The idea is for the committee to put a recommendation in front of the school board in early 2011. The nature of the recommendations are forthcoming.
Several people, especially advocates who didn’t want board members to close any schools as part of this year’s budget talks, are already inquiring about how they can be part of the task force, Doll said, which is still being determined.
Scott Morgan, the school board’s president, proposed the compromise of creating a task force after originally presenting a plan to close two elementary schools.
“I want to keep it a manageable number of people. If it gets too big, it’s more of a convention and less of a task force,” he said.
Group members will study the district’s elementary facilities. About 40 percent of elementary students are in five larger schools: Deerfield, Langston Hughes, Prairie Park, Quail Run and Sunflower. The remaining 60 percent attend the 10 other schools.
Jessica Beeson, a member of Save Our Neighborhood Schools, said group members were glad to see the district agree to take a year to let a community group study elementary facilities as opposed to closing them for next school year.
“I think Save Our Neighborhood Schools and certainly other community members feel very strongly that that’s a really positive step,” Beeson said last week.