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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New school board majority shares ideals

April 6, 2011

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View an interactive, precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the results for the Lawrence school board race.

Interactive map of Lawrence school board election results

View an interactive, precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the results for the Lawrence school board election held April 5, 2011.

Lawrence school board will enter the next school year with a new majority of members, a group intent on improving communication with the public, increasing information-gathering from the public and perhaps even soliciting budget ideas, suggestions and other advice from the public.

Four new members won election to the seven-member board Tuesday and will begin their four-year terms July 1:

• Rick Ingram, a professor of psychology at Kansas University, received 3,650 votes.

• Shannon Kimball, an attorney — now stay-at-home-mom — who served on the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, received 3,517 votes.

• Randy Masten, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer now pursuing a doctoral degree at KU, received 3,506 votes.

• Keith Diaz Moore, an associate professor and associate dean of graduate studies in the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at KU, received 3,467 votes.

Shared traits

Results remain unofficial until certified by Douglas County commissioners, who meet at 9 a.m. Monday to review vote totals and consider 107 provisional ballots. But the four winners will be expected to remain there.

“All of the top four candidates, we embrace a sense of community participation, and taking seriously the task force report that has the process and community-participation aspects in it,” said Diaz Moore, citing a report that calls for consolidating elementary schools with assistance from neighborhoods and school communities that would be affected. “I think all of us have had a message of real financial responsibility in our campaigns.

“And I think that’s very clear: All four of us share those traits, and I think that’s what the district wants.”

The four will replace four incumbents, including Marlene Merrill, a retired educator who finished fifth with 3,102 votes. Mary Loveland, Rich Minder and Scott Morgan did not seek re-election.

Merrill noted that the winners had the ability to campaign without carrying the unwelcome baggage that comes with cutting millions of dollars from budgets during the past several years, nor having to chart a specific course for the anticipated financial shortcomings of the next several years.

“I’m sure they’ll do the best they can, no doubt about that,” Merrill said.

Getting to work

Ingram said he was looking forward to getting to work on school issues right away, even before he and his newly elected colleagues can take office. He’s been an advocate for conducting electronic forums, to collect input from people about various issues. He wants to create a public budget committee, filled with volunteers willing to help find potential savings.

He wants the public to have a say in upcoming talk about school consolidation.

“The community really wants to have some genuine input into the process,” said Ingram, who invites people to email him at ringram@sunflower.com. “If there’s any one message, that’s it.”

Kimball’s campaign included a focus on seeing the task force’s work carried through. She was among two dozen volunteers who spent eight months studying the district’s elementary schools in search of needed upgrades and potential savings.

The task force concluded that Wakarusa Valley School should close next year, a decision the school board reached last month. The task force also recommends consolidating six elementary schools into either three or four within the next three to five years.

“I think people are very engaged in the issues right now, and I think they’re looking for strong leadership,” Kimball said. “People have followed the (task force) process and want us to honor the community input that has been given so far, through that process.”

Masten embraces the task force’s work but cautions that its recommendations must carry true public support to become reality. That’s why the district needs to improve its communications, especially when it comes to budgets and other major decisions.

“Lawrence has got a lot of very smart people, and they want to see the facts for themselves, and they want to have the ability to comment,” Masten said. “And I think the train’s moving a little too fast right now for some people towards closings and consolidations.

“If they have to happen, we’ve got to have a very open, understandable process for choosing the schools that we do. I’m not saying they haven’t done a good job of looking at it. I just think the communications side of it has not been as good as it could be.”

Diaz Moore wants increase public participation in district business, through task forces and advisory committees — all part of an overall plan to increase transparency that could help everyone move forward after difficult decisions and issues that have surfaced in recent years.

“We have to try to rebuild trust in the school district,” Diaz Moore said. “What’s important now is to we have to build community buy in, and make sure we move forward as one community — that even if we disagree with the decisions, we at least understand where they came from.”

Comments

Cogito_Ergo_Es 3 years, 8 months ago

Diaz Moore said. “What’s important now is to we have to build community buy in, and make sure we move forward as one community — that even if we disagree with the decisions, we at least understand where they came from.”

And we don't. If you four keep regurgitating the task force recommendation mantra you will never “...rebuild trust in the school district,” (If you want to do that, start with looking more closely at Doll.) If you say 'community' you had better mean more than those that live on the east side or within the city limits and look to the entire USD497 district.

If you dare put off the future closings and consolidations of your east side schools without also looking to reopen Wakarusa Valley you will have to answer for it. (Not that I really expect anyone from SONS to do what is right or just.) Just because you now have a SONS heavy board, does not mean you can use it to your personal benefit. Good luck to you all!

Synjyn Smythe 3 years, 8 months ago

Odds on a bond issue passing in this economy: 10/1 against. Odds of SONS actually supporting a bond issue that would close one of their schools: 100/1 against.

lawslady 3 years, 8 months ago

Electronic formats for discussion? Before you go too far down that path, you MAY want to learn about the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA). It may not allow the school board members to participate in an on-going, on-line, interactive chat with each other, at all times. A meeting subject to KOMA (an interactive discussion about board business involving a majority of the board) must be conducted openly AND prior notice of it must be provided to those requesting such notice. How does the school board give notice (as required by the KOMA) of a meeting that may "break out" 24/7? People cannot be expected to watch a computer board 24/7 so that they do not miss a meeting (discussion).

nativeson 3 years, 8 months ago

KOMA does apply to online discussions, and it will be important for school board members to remember that ongoing e-mail exchanges that have a quorum of members is a clear violation of the act.

Looking to blame the superintendent for the current state financial crisis is short-sighted. I find it interesting that all focus is on the local school board members and not your legislative representatives in Topeka. The funding per pupil is now being pulled back to pre-2007 levels and this is unsustainable. I am sure no superintendent is ever brought in to be a hack, and they are collectively facing the most difficult funding situation in recent history.

begin60 3 years, 8 months ago

Congratulations to the new school board! It sounds like the small percentage of voters who showed up at the polls used good judgment.

Jeanne Cunningham 3 years, 8 months ago

When deciding to close a school or not, why not allow the residents of that district vote on whether or not to close it or fund it with (1) special taxes, (2) increased tuition or (3) reduced services? and/or a variety of other as yet unpursued possibilities. Use parent volunteers for janitorial and groundskeepint services? Have volunteer librarians? I don't know, but I believe that neighborhood schools where the teachers know the kids AND the parents IS the BEST for the kids.

Which also brings up the most critical point of all: What does that mean - what's "best" for the kids? I'll bet that my definition of what's best is NOT the same as many others'. Each school's patrons should be able to decide what is "best" for THEIR children...

There's an update of an old saying, "an elephant is a horse designed by a committee" which says "an elephant is a mouse built to government specifications". However, I think that the closer the committee is to the core of the issue, the less-funny-looking the product is likely to be...

Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

nativeson 3 years, 8 months ago

USD 497 serves 10,000 students. School closings are difficult decisions. The current recommendation is to look at consolidating 6 into 4 that would effect approximately 300-400 students. The reporting on this issue continues to ignore the impact of budget decisions that increase student/teacher ratios in all schools. This is the invisible impact of deferring decisions that will be inevitable.

Kansas does not allow districts to tax beyond their local option budget, charge tuition rates that are not uniform across the district or provide a lower level of service due to equal access laws.

What is best for one group of kids (their children) in a specific situation would come at the expense of all other kids in the district if done in a vacuum. The district lives in the world of scarce resources.

4getabouit 3 years, 8 months ago

Schools are going to close. Get over it and move on.

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