Board OKs budget, raises for employees
Among items approved Monday by members of the Lawrence school board:
• A $138.5 million spending plan for the 2011-12 academic year, backed by a property-tax rate that will cost the owner of a $150,000 home, for example, $973.43.
• A master agreement with the Lawrence Education Association that includes raises for all licensed educators in the district: $250 in base salary, plus a $1,000 one-time bump to be paid in December.
• Pay raises for administrators and classified personnel equal to a total of 3.3 percent for each employee group, in line with compensation increases for teachers, which administrators say work out to an average of 3.3 percent.
A member of the Lawrence school board can’t imagine basing the future of six educational homes for some of Lawrence’s most vulnerable children on what he considers miscalculated math, inapplicable data and ill-conceived conclusions.
But even beyond what he considers such obvious holes — ones he asserts call for urgent “reanalysis’” — Rick Ingram certainly can’t see how members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group could be expected to come up with anything viable during the next seven months, at least as how their task is defined right now.
Figure out how to close either two or three elementary schools through consolidation, when people making the recommendations are from the six schools being targeted?
“They have what probably amounts to an impossible task,” said Ingram, a professor of psychology at Kansas University, after walking fellow board members through a critique of the report upon which the working group’s upcoming work will be based. “If they can achieve consensus on which of the schools — their schools — to close, then I’ll be very surprised.”
The working group’s assigned goal is to recommend how to close either two or three of six elementary schools: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill, as recommended by the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force. The closings would be expected to save the district money through operations, money that could be reinvested in programs and other efforts to improve education for all students.
The working group’s charge grew out of a report from another volunteer group: the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, which had met for seven months to identify ways to provide the best elementary buildings within ongoing financial constraints. The task force advised closing Wakarusa Valley School, then working to close at least two more through consolidation.
Ingram’s admittedly “unusual” critique of the task force’s conclusions — methodically flipping through a PowerPoint presentation, pointing out flaws while standing behind a microphone normally reserved for members of the public and district staff — drew at-times sharp responses from some board members who had worked on the task force’s recommendations.
When Ingram argued that the district “is not asking for a sacrifice from anyone else, just these six schools,” several board members quickly disagreed.
“I take offense to that,” said Vanessa Sanburn, one of three board members who had approved the task force’s report, then had formed the working group and had charged it with recommending which schools should close and how.
By closing schools, she said, the district can direct what remains of dwindling resources to the places that need them most.
“I don’t think that keeping the status quo, and keeping all our buildings open, will be enough,” Sanburn said.
In the end, no matter what the volunteer working group recommends after biweekly meetings through February, all seven board members will be asked to make the decisions the previous board had sought. Current board members Sanburn, Mark Bradford and Bob Byers all had been part of that board decision, acting upon a report from the task force that had included Shannon Kimball, who has since joined them on the board.
Like Kimball, Ingram also is new to the board. They took office in July after having been elected in April, along with Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore.
Diaz Moore, for one, is hoping that Ingram’s assertions — that small schools, not ones ranging from 300 to 500 students, are best for students, especially for those considered at-risk — lead to an ongoing discussion between board members and members of the working group.
“I see much more of a dialogue happening,” Diaz Moore said. “For the moment, I would like to place trust in this working group.”
Board members agreed that the district’s elementary schools have excess capacity in them, especially now that sixth-grade students will be enrolled in middle schools. The task force’s report shows that the district’s elementary schools will open next week with at least 800 extra seats, a capacity that doesn’t include portables that both the task force and board members have agreed should go.
As envisioned by the task force, any other major physical changes — to expand, upgrade or otherwise build new elementary schools — would be the basis of a proposed bond issue put up for voter approval.
But a bond issue can’t get on a ballot without another vote first, no matter what the working group comes up with.
“That is a planning group,” Diaz Moore said. “The board will decide. There will need to be four members to eventually decide to move forward with consolidation or closure.”