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Archive for Monday, April 18, 2011

Support sought for consolidating elementary schools in Lawrence

April 18, 2011

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As members of the Lawrence school board continue making plans to form a community-minded process for consolidating elementary schools during the next several years, they’re finding support from folks who some may see as unlikely advocates.

Even people from one of the schools targeted say they want to remain on the consolidation list, even after several members of the Lawrence school board suggested taking their building — Pinckney School — off the list of six potential candidates.

“We don’t want to be out there as the school that is left out … and becomes the next (closure) target,” said Andrew Lees, who lives in Old West Lawrence.

Adds David Unekis: “We don’t want to be the next tiny school that every year is sweating this out.”

Such support is considered key to board members as they pursue the most divisive and potentially enduring recommendation from the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force: Consolidate six elementary schools into four or possibly three schools within three to five years.

To turn the recommendation into reality, the board would need to propose and win approval for a bond issue that would be designed to address the needs of all elementary schools in town, whether that’s by adding new classrooms, expanding libraries or even building entirely new schools.

And to get to that point, board members agree that they’d need to secure “buy in” from the community, especially in relation to the families and teachers and administrators and neighborhood residents who would be most affected by consolidations.

That would be the folks close to the six schools themselves: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.

From there, the goal would be to include enough upgrades elsewhere to encourage voters throughout the district to approve a bond issue, possibly in November 2012. If approved, the thinking goes, the district could reduce excess capacity in schools, cut operational costs, eliminate portables, and open new or expanded schools in older neighborhoods.

All without increasing property taxes.

“We could float a $120 million bond in three years and, assuming no growth in the valuation of our district, it would keep taxes the same,” said Scott Morgan, a board member who served as co-chairman of the task force. “We won’t go anywhere near that number, and still do everything that needs to be done. We have a lot of debt going away. We can do what’s right and still lower taxes. It’s a rare meeting. …

“This is the one chance we have, this one brief moment, to do this is a way that actually brings the community together instead of tearing it apart. If we blink at this one, then it won’t come back again for a long, long time.”

In February, after eight months of studying data and discussing community values, task force members generally supported a consolidation plan that would start with the six schools and end up with four. Further, the bulk of task force discussion had focused on limiting the work to a pair of consolidations:

• In central Lawrence, Hillcrest and Sunset Hill would be combined.

• In eastern Lawrence, Kennedy and New York would be combined.

Board members plan to meet Monday to discuss ways to appoint another group or groups — similar to the task force — to tackle the many issues expected to be connected with pursuing school consolidation, such as budget realities, site conditions, construction costs, approaches to sustainability and social equity, community focus and overall plans for programs such as English as a Second Language. Other issues, including effects on neighborhood property values, also have been discussed.

Morgan, who leaves office in July, advocates giving the board’s eventual appointees as much direction as possible. The goal shouldn’t be to discuss whether to pursue consolidation, he said, but instead to figure out how.

“There will be two fewer schools at the end of this process,” Morgan said. “That’s the decision the community (reached) in the recommendation through the task force.”

Added Rich Minder, board president and the task force’s other co-chairman: “The ‘how’ is what we’re asking the community to do.”

Both Minder and Morgan joined Mary Loveland during last week’s board meeting in suggesting that Pinckney not be among schools considered for consolidation. The remaining schools appear to make much more sense, they said, given their locations, designs or physical conditions.

But Bob Byers, a board member who has two years remaining on his term, wants to stay true to the task force recommendation: Keep Pinckney in the mix, because that’s what the task force recommended.

Whatever group ends up being appointed this time around would have the opportunity to decide whether Pinckney — or, for that matter, any of the others schools on the list — should be consolidated.

“Let them struggle with it,” Byers said.

Minder, who leaves office July 1, wants to put together a process that would be expected to lead to an effective consideration of consolidation as a positive task. That’s why he started the discussion last week, and looks to continue it Monday night, when the board meets at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

While the direction isn’t yet set, Minder knows what he doesn’t want.

“My concern is that the next board is left with what amounts to a political mess, and the community doesn’t get anywhere,” Minder said.

Comments

Jeanne Cunningham 3 years, 8 months ago

When they say:

In central Lawrence, Hillcrest and Sunset Hill would be combined.

• In eastern Lawrence, Kennedy and New York would be combined.

Do they mean move Hillcrest kids to Sunset? and move Kennedy kids to New York? or what?

Dawn Shew 3 years, 8 months ago

There is nowhere at New York for the nearly 400 kids at Kennedy to go. If the early childhood program is moved (again) out of Kennedy, the facility could easily absorb the 120 New York students.

Brian Hall 3 years, 8 months ago

There was an article that addressed this issue. A new school would be built in Sunset Hill's location and a new school built at East Heights (so I'm assuming B&G Club would move to either New York or Kennedy if the district allows).

EarthaKitt 3 years, 8 months ago

Nothing has been decided at all. They could move to one school or the other (either would need an expansion to accommodate the new numbers) or they could move to a third location and build a new school. This is the stuff the new group is going to (try to) hammer out.

Clevercowgirl 3 years, 8 months ago

Time for everyone to put their Pollyana glasses on. The process marches forward.

Jeanne Cunningham 3 years, 8 months ago

It just seems like insanity to ask even more kids than already do to have to cross Iowa Street / Highway to get to/from school. I am NOT at all happy about the increase in driving kids to school this would cause.

Dawn Shew 3 years, 8 months ago

So, if these consolidations move forward, does that mean that the resources that are currently split between these schools (music, art, PE, school nurse) will stay full time in the "consolidated" school that results?

irvan moore 3 years, 8 months ago

the community didn't decide, the task force which had a preconceived agenda did, when are they going to figure it out? if you have children who will go to school buy a house or rent one in a neighborhood that has room for your kids in school. no more bond issues, no more schools, learn to use what we have in an effective manner.

das 3 years, 8 months ago

"...and open new or expanded schools in older neighborhoods."

Those are the ones they will be closing....that statement makes no sense. Building new schools in the neighborhoods where they end up closing schools is fiscally irresponsible. The repairs needed are in no way more than the cost of building new schools.

"...Other issues, including effects on neighborhood property values, also have been discussed..."

They will fall. Why would the neighborhoods be more attractive to buyers? Schools provide places for activities and events besides just learning.....churches do as well. The young families will move (the ones that can afford to) to be near the schools. Families coming into Lawrence (KU faculty etc.) will want locations near schools and a real "neighborhood atmosphere".....I'm sure that's what KU tries to sell them. The only increase you will see is in the number of slumlord college rentals. That's the fate for Central/East Lawrence on this path.

EJ Mulligan 3 years, 8 months ago

I totally agree with Das. Is there any appropriate way to involve a city or neighborhoods entity to discuss these impacts?

Consolidate schools but construct new ones. I don't get the math on that at all, how does that save money? Mr. Fagan, has the school board and/or the district provided a ledger or flow chart that outlines the calculations? That would be very helpful to understand.

Mark Jakubauskas 3 years, 8 months ago

Bond issue ? BOND ISSUE ?? I've always been in favor of bond issues, BUT: I voted for the last one, bought the argument that it was to improve the schools, get rid of portable classrooms, and all that - and they turned around and spent my money instead on a couple of STUPID FOOTBALL COMPLEXES !
They're going to have to work extra hard to get me to vote in favor of another. "Fool me once, fie on you; fool me twice, fie on me!"

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

Yep.

I also will not be voting for any bond issues without absolute certainty that they will go towards what I think they're for.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

They can hire whomever they want, can't they?

That doesn't mean we have to vote to approve any bond issue that's suggested.

jaybird79 3 years, 8 months ago

I guess I should just feel lucky to watch the terrible economy and political buffoons destroy a mecca of good willed people. This is a sad time for Lawrence.

getserious 3 years, 8 months ago

How does the city not have enough money to keep open these schools? When the population was 75000 there was, now that there is 100,000 there is not? Sounds like to me some teachers contracts, pensions, retirement, health..etc need to be reworked to save these schools. After all, its for the kids right? Your decisions are pushing the afluent westward and pretty soon you will have a segregated town. Consolidating is ALWAYS a terrible idea.

average 3 years, 8 months ago

Demoing and building new schools is utterly ridiculous.

How about K-2 in Hillcrest and 3-5 in Sunset or vice-versa? Gains some of the efficiency-of-scale by reducing the number of not-quite-full rooms (80 1st graders in two schools needs 4 teachers, where they only need 3 in one school). They already share many things like nurses, art, music, etc.

BigPrune 3 years, 8 months ago

Gimme a freaking break! Our ONLY opportunity for a long time? Are you kidding me? This is the same talk that got us a $56,000,000 bond just a few short years ago. Now they are floating a $120,000,000 bond idea?

Have these people looked at the demographics and how many infants are being born in this community - since they didn't do it last time to project future students?

It seems like the only thing the school board knows is spend, spend, spend.

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