The man in line to become president of the Lawrence school board two years from now wants current board members to delay discussing consolidation plans for at least another couple of months to give four incoming board members time to shape the public-participation part of the process.
But the man on track to become board president July 1 isn’t interested in putting on the brakes — not for an issue that was studied for eight months, shaped into a formal recommendation by a community task force and forwarded to the elected board for action and implementation.
Monday night, board members will consider taking the next step: endorsing a plan that would appoint a group responsible for recommending how — not if — six elementary schools would be reduced to three or four within two to three years.
“We can’t put things on hold for weeks or months,” said Mark Bradford, who has two years remaining on his term and will be the next board president after receiving the most votes in the 2009 board election. “If government did that in general, it would be at a standstill all the time. We can’t wait and say, ‘We’ll just put it off until the new board is seated.’ I’m not in favor of that, nor do I think any of the current members are. We need to move forward.”
But Rick Ingram, who takes office July 1 and is in line to lead the board in two years after having finished first in the April 5 election, says such movement regarding consolidation — wherever it might lead — should begin only after Shannon Kimball, Randy Masten, Keith Diaz Moore and he have been sworn in for their four-year terms.
The Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force may have recommended a list of potential schools for closure, Ingram said, but that doesn’t mean the process for shaping the discussion must be decided now.
“It would be a reasonable thing to think that the four new members of the board were elected, at least in part, so that they could determine the process,” Ingram said. “My concern is that the outgoing members of the board — from my perspective — it looks like they’re rushing through the process … one that the new board is going to inherit.
“The new board is the one that will have to live with this. It should be the new board that determines what the process is.”
In February, the task force wrapped up eight months of work by recommending that the district close Wakarusa Valley School, then work to consolidate six others into either three or four within three to five years. The consolidation candidates: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill schools.
The current board created the task force at this time last year, and two of its members — Rich Minder and Scott Morgan — are board members who did not seek re-election. They leave office July 1.
Ingram listened at district headquarters April 11 as board members discussed moving ahead with consolidation plans. He also has reviewed the proposal written by Superintendent Rick Doll that is up for consideration Monday night.
The proposal, guided by input from the existing board, calls for the six schools’ site councils to nominate members for a “Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group,” one that would be tasked with recommending consolidation that would be financed with a bond issue.
“However, should the bond vote fail, there shall still be consolidation,” Doll’s proposal states.
Ingram favors a “more open-ended process,” one that would allow members of the school communities to discuss whether they would consider consolidation to be a positive move.
Just telling people from six schools to figure out how to end up with three or four schools doesn’t make much sense, he said.
“I worry that’s going to pit one school against another,” Ingram said. “It’s going to pit neighborhoods against neighborhoods. I think what we’ll end up with is winners and losers.”
Or board members against board members.
“If I am not really comfortable with whatever happens, then I’m not going to feel any sense of obligation to support it,” Ingram said. “These are recommendations. You don’t have to follow recommendations.”
Bradford points out that the new board also will include himself, Bob Byers and Vanessa Sanburn, three incumbent board members who have grappled with ongoing budget cuts for two years and have faced grim revenue projections.
He not only plans to move ahead with consolidation planning but also holds out hope for having members appointed to the working group and meetings started by July 1.
“The entire community’s going to have to give up something, and that’s the number of elementary schools that we have communitywide,” Bradford said. “That’s what we’re giving up. We can’t afford to keep them all.
“I don’t want to delay this in any fashion, nor am I trying to move things too quickly. We need to move forward. The community knows what we’re doing. There isn’t a reason to delay.”