Appointees to a citizen working group will be charged with figuring out how to trim the roster of six elementary schools in central and eastern Lawrence to either four or three within the next two to three years.
And the 27 volunteers will be on the job by July 1.
“Let’s get it on and get it done,” said Bob Byers, one of three Lawrence school board members with two years remaining on their terms. “We really need to get this on. It’s time to move, and let’s get it started.”
Byers and his six colleagues agreed unanimously Monday night to form the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Working Group, whose yet-to-be-appointed members will include four from each of six schools previously identified as candidates for consolidation.
The members of the working group will be split into two committees, in which they will be able to voice concerns, address issues and form recommendations regarding areas where consolidation is expected:
• Members from Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools will focus on consolidation in the central part of town.
• Members from Cordley, Kennedy and New York will focus on consolidation in the eastern part of Lawrence.
• The four members from Pinckney School will be split, with two serving on the central committee and two on the eastern committee.
• One member will be appointed at large, to serve as chair.
• Two members will represent Woodlawn School, even though the school was not identified as a consolidation candidate by the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, another appointed group whose own eight months of work paved the way to close Wakarusa Valley School at the end of this school year and to call for closing either two or three more through consolidation.
Board member Vanessa Sanburn suggested granting Woodlawn a spot at the table, given the school’s relatively small size and concern among some North Lawrence residents that the neighborhood school could get lost in the shuffle.
Board member Scott Morgan supported the addition of Woodlawn, describing the expansion as a way to protect the “fragile process” from collapsing under a lack of trust.
“If this helps strengthen that trust, it’s worth including,” said Morgan, who served as co-chairman of the previous task force and is among four board members leaving the board July 1.
Others aren’t so sure. Sarah Casad told board members that she disagreed with the prospects of consolidation, especially as it would pertain to her Hillcrest neighborhood. If Hillcrest’s students ended up being sent to an expanded Sunset Hill, she figures, residences could shift away from single-family ownership.
“I would beg you not to hurry into this,” she said.
Rick Ingram, who finished first in the board election April 5, maintains that the board would be better off setting its plan in motion after July 1. That would be after he and three new members — a majority of the seven-member board — had been sworn into office.
“There are many ways to build trust,” said Ingram, a professor of psychology at Kansas University, who wants the entire community to determine whether consolidation should be pursued. “You don’t build trust by going to the community and saying, ‘Here’s what you’re going to do; go figure it out.’”
But that’s exactly what current board members insist must happen. The task force had concluded that the district has too many elementary schools operating during times in which operational budgets continue to shrink.
The task force’s vision, reaffirmed Monday night, calls for proposing a bond issue to address physical needs in what would be the district’s remaining elementary schools — to be remodeled, expanded or even built anew.
For decades, Morgan said, board members inevitably have faced two choices when looking for savings: either cut facilities, or cut teachers and other employees. Now, as budgets continue to be cut, he sees it as imperative that remaining buildings be especially efficient and effective.
Without consolidation, Morgan said, he’d be pushing to close two more schools at the end of this year. Other board members have lamented plans to dip into district savings accounts, calling such spending unsustainable.
“We need to put this to rest,” Morgan said.
Superintendent Rick Doll said he would appoint members to the working group by July 1.