Lawrence school board members on Monday plan to define a group that will study the district’s elementary schools in the next year.
The idea of the community task force was born earlier this year, when board members agreed not to close any elementary schools as they made $4.6 million in budget cuts.
“The conversation is really important. It needs to be a community conversation,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “Lawrence has needed to have this conversation for a number of years.”
Nearly 30 people have expressed interest in serving on the task force. Board members and administrators said they plan to target a group of 20 to 25 people.
During their meeting 7 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive, board members plan to discuss what the task force will look at once it’s formed and starts meeting in the summer.
Doll said administrators recommend the task force examine historically what the district has done with its elementary schools. The district is roughly split between students who attend 10 older, smaller elementary schools and ones who go to five larger, newer schools.
School officials have said the group likely will consider several complex issues, such as weighing preserving neighborhood schools vs. budget constraints — plus some new concepts, such as developing magnet schools, an idea that has gained traction with district leaders.
One possible piece of contention could come from how task force members will be selected.
Members of Save Our Neighborhood Schools, vocal during the budget discussions, have said a mix of 29 stakeholder groups should be able to appoint one person, including each elementary school plus representatives of other groups, such as the city, county and Kansas University.
President Scott Morgan said the school board still needs to discuss particulars but currently the plan would be to have Doll appoint the community members on the task force with board approval.
During meetings with parents in recent months, Doll has said the district is looking for open-minded people to serve on the task force. However, on Friday he said it will likely be a politically diverse group.
“If we don’t put people on the committee who are passionate about education and to represent different aspects of our community, then the recommendation that they make will have no credibility,” Doll said. “We need a credible task force that will be able to make a series of credible recommendations.”
Board member Rich Minder, who is expected to be board president starting in July, said the task force’s work will be part of an important year. The district is also seeking input about reconfiguring its schools because the district will go from three- to four-grade high schools in 2011-2012. Sixth-grade students will move into middle schools with seventh- and eighth-grades.
Minder would also like to see the district’s boundary committee activated because of all the changes.
“It’s a really exciting time,” he said. “We can get a lot of people in the community engaged in a lot of different ways and really over a period of time build a pretty strong community consensus around where we’re going as a district and as a community.”