Archive for Saturday, April 23, 2011

Now or later? Lawrence school board to debate consolidation on Monday night

April 23, 2011


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.”

Consolidation recommended

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.”


Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

Mark Bradford is wrong on this.

The new thinkers are correct in their request to place a hold on this for another 75 days. It would be a show of respect from existing BOE members if a simple majority of BOE members would call for putting this off for 75 days. That is NOT too much to ask.

Mark Bradford is not a single power unit who can over rule the majority of BOE members.

After all the tax paying citizens elected the new members for a reason so I say let the new members become sitting members before making any further decisions on this important matter.

Let's display some respect for the tax paying citizens of USD 497..... for a change.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

I would certainly urge voters to show up at this BOE meeting Monday night April 25 to exercise your rights as the citizens who are paying the bills.

After all contrary to popular belief the USD 497 BOE works for the taxpaying voters not the other way around.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

Another matter on the Monday April 25 agenda of the USD 497 BOE that could wait for 75 days:

irvan moore 7 years, 1 month ago

Ingram is right, bradford needs to accept the fact that him and his buddies have screwed up enough stuff and wait for the folks who were elected to try and clean up their mess get to deal with it. i'm really hoping to see integrity returned to our school board, it's been missing for a long time.

Hwy50 7 years, 1 month ago

The current board's term didn't end on election day. It's still their term to use however they wish.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

USD 497 BOE can talk all they want but let us not forget this is the same board that paid wayyyy too much for a piece of property that had no special purpose according statements made.....

USD 497 pays $1.73 million for new unimproved land. $23,000 per acre and USD 497 officials thought this was a great deal. USD 497 has schools that need serious maintence yet the district chose to blow $20 million on a sports project and buy unimproved land at $23,000 per acre........ not a lot of wisdom demonstrated here.

"Harwood also believes the purchase represents little risk to the district. He said if the district discovers that the site is not well-suited for its purposes, it is likely that the property will draw heavy interest from developers because of its location.

At 76 acres, the site is also large enough that part of the property could be used for a school and the balance could be sold for a profit. An elementary school, for example, generally needs about 25 acres." ( Not a real good reason for USD 497 to buy this property. Games of speculation should be left to Wall Street. - Merrill)

The school district purchased the property from P.D.O. Investors, a Lawrence-based group led by Steve Glass, the former owner of LRM Industries.

homechanger 7 years, 1 month ago

Ummmm? School board members fancy themselves land speculators.

tomatogrower 7 years, 1 month ago

I vote in favor of almost every education bond issue, but I'm voting against this one. I've heard a lot of pro education people express the same opinion. Quit killing neighborhood schools.

irvan moore 7 years, 1 month ago

voting for the issues of the present school board is not being pro education. they understand that the Lawrence community is not in favor of their policies but still want to impose them on us. shame on them.

Dog 7 years, 1 month ago

How much longer do we postpone the inevitable? If you read the Consolidation Committee's report, which is located on the USD 497 web page, it is clear to see that our schools are operating way below capacity. There are far too many extra seats going unused in classrooms. As a taxpayer it is clear to me that this is an inefficient way to operate. Each day that classrooms go unused and buildings are not operating at capacity costs the district money. How long would a business continue to operate if they didn't fully utilize their resources? Why do the people of Lawrence have so much trouble making tough decisions? We can no longer afford to utilize schools that are not filled to capacity.

If Mr. Ingram has read the report, which I hope he has, it is clear to see from enrollment numbers that even this year there are elementary schools in the district where enrollment is down. If you then factor in the loss of sixth graders, as they move to the middle school, elementary enrollment drops again. This is yet another reason we can no longer postpone the consolidation plan.

Finally, I wish that the city commission, school district, Chamber of Commerce and home builders would begin to explore the reason that our school enrollment hasn't been growing. Why are young families choosing to relocate to other communities? What barriers are keeping the city of Lawrence from growing?

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 1 month ago

For starters, the price of gas. People in this region see less value in spending time and gas money commuting to KC or Topeka. The quality of our schools have declined, and will continue to do so, given the current direction our school board is headed. As we eliminate small classes and schools, quality will continue to decline. Furthermore, as a parent, I could care less about growing Lawrence into a larger, more successful community. What I care about, are the priorities of the community and powers-that-be, and how they affect the well-being of my kids. So far, all I'm seeing are politics and dollar signs. Educating kids is about so much more than that.

deec 7 years, 1 month ago

If some schools are crowded and some schools have empty seats, change the boundaries. Problem solved. Or would this cause some well-off kids to have to attend school with the peasant class?

songbird 7 years, 1 month ago

What a sad attitude (not yours, necessarily, deec) - diversity is what we should value about our schools (peasant class is not the correct term). This is what makes east and central schools the most amazing schools. Even consolidating these schools would bring "rich" communities together. Rich in diversity, rich in parent involvement, rich in language, rich in academic achievement. My biggest concern is transportation. We cannot expect young kids/families to cross major intersections. If we transition to larger schools, we must address the 2.5 mile limit on bussing! AND consider onsite afterschool care. Think Jr. High - they are amazing when 3 or more elementary schools are brought together. We need to get past this, if we can solve the transportation concerns. Lawrence needs to have a serious discussion regarding what is valued. Neighborhood schools come at a cost to the taxpayer, I, for one, think they are worth it, but if the consensus and logic dictates consolidation - then let's make the best of it. I am thankful the board is considering the input of the public. I think it should be the work of the new board that will see us through the next several years.

nativeson 7 years, 1 month ago

All governing bodies should deal with the issues at hand regardless of election cycles. If they follow the same track as our federal officials, government will actually work on real policy about 12-18 months out of every four years. Is this what we want?

Regarding what the public wants, it appears that the general public is not paying very close attention when 13% vote. However, elections have consequences and it will certainly be true in this instance. A well-organized and motivated group that wants to oppose any school closures elected their slate. It may stem the tide of school closings at the expense of the education of all 10,000 students. The fact is that populations shift over time in all communities, and facilities must be closed and expanded appropriately to keep some level of efficiency.

Finally, the idea that Lawrence created this issue through growth is simply misinformed. The state is funding education for K-12 at a level that is pre-2007. As health care costs, wages and general expenses grow with inflation every district is trying to provide an acceptable level of education with less. Funding comes from growth in students. Unfortunately, slow of no growth actually makes it harder to sustain the same level of service. That is why Johnson County (growing fast than all other areas) will escape somewhat unscathed and rural areas will get hit the hardest as enrollment declines.

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 1 month ago

An underlying assumption to what you say, is that taxes cannot be re-allocated, or raised at the state level. I don't believe that the economic growth factors of Kansas,(or lack thereof) are so sensitive that a minute adjustment to taxes to appropriately fund education could not be successfully implemented. If the only answer is mega-schools under the current funding, then maybe we need to all be voting out the current budget cutters. There is no such thing as pulling a rabbit out of a hat when it comes to funding essential services, such as education. Oh, and inflation? Where, when?

Dog 7 years, 1 month ago

I know that I will be criticized for the statement that I am about to make, but I don't think that they will surprise us. Both the board and district administration have been working hard to be as transparent as possible. The task force did their research and made data driven decisions that you can see on the USD 497 web site. The current board should be applauded for listening to this community task force and then having the courage to do what should have been done years ago.

irvan moore 7 years, 1 month ago

the current board had a member on the task force, open mind ya think?

Dawn Shew 7 years, 1 month ago

Gee... for a school "operating well below capacity" I'd like to see them fit another student into Kennedy. It's packed. Class sizes are right on par with the rest of the district, and the school boasts almost 400 students-- over 100 more students than Broken Arrow, which is not on the list for consolidation. Or Woodlawn, which has about 180 less students than Kennedy, and 100 less than Hillcrest. Schwegler isn't on the list... it's the same size as Kennedy. So school size/capacity is an arbitrary factor, randomly applied.

The real reason these schools were chosen? Check the voter records. Figure out where citizens (incensed or otherwise) are LEAST likely to vote. You'll find your voter turnout runs right along the school boundaries, and that those schools with lower turnouts? You guessed it. On the list for consolidation. Do you think that those voter turnouts are going to change when the bond issue comes up? Hmm. I don't think so.

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