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Archive for Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lawrence school board debates consolidation effort

August 9, 2011

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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.

Board disagreement

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.”

Excess space

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.”

Comments

Clevercowgirl 2 years, 8 months ago

Thank you Rick for publicly shining a light on a very shady process. The current Task Forces charge puts the members in an untenable and adversarial position. The perfect setting for another round of "Let's make a deal". I'm sure that there will be another smoke and mirrors financial report to the members, a high pressure atmosphere to push for consensus, and an environment that will be the antithesis of what is needed to make calm, informed, and reasoned decisions. Too bad the members are not allowed to reach a decision on the validity of the last Task Force's decision. Not that I blame most of those people: they were deliberately misinformed, and coerced.

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edjayhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

If they do close schools can we put SRS in one or two of those buildings?

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

The fact is USD 497 does not need to raise taxes or initiate a bond issue. We can rehab schools with capitol outlay money generated by existing property tax money annually. This seems like the fiscal conservative approach that will keep paying back.

Yes the population is on the increase on the east part of town. New homes are being built and sold no problem ...perhaps slower than Reckless Boom Town Economy speed.

There is no hard evidence as to how much if any money can be saved. It is speculation.

Face it if necessary the same speculation could be offered that using existing resources is the most solid foundation for the future. Paid for school buildings can make a strong position statement in that regard. Why? Because these buildings can be rehabilitated over a 2-3 year period which = smart dollars and demonstrates good sense.

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nativeson 2 years, 8 months ago

This debate is a microcosm of school funding at the state level. School enrollments will continue to decline in older neighborhoods and shift toward newer neighborhoods. This is similar to the shift from rural to urban areas of the population of the state. How you deal with the issue in fairness to all impacted is difficult.

I do believe it is unfair to portray the actions taken to date as predatory upon certain schools. When you look at class sizes, the larger elementary schools have seen signficant increases over the last 2-3 years which diminishes the classroom experience.

I have no doubt that smaller schools are more beneficial to students than those with enrollments of 300-500. Then, in fairness the district should build another facility in the Langston, Quail Run and Sunflower districts so that all can benefit equally with the small school experience. If not, then Mr. Moore is essentially concluding that preserving schools that are more expensive per student to operate should come at the expense of the balance of the kids in the district. How is that fair? The point is moot, because the district can not afford to do it.

Some schools will need to close as classroom enrollments continue to decline in older neighborhoods. While this in itself is a problem, it is not one to be solved by USD 497.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Another way to reduce our USD 497 Budget:

The Obama administration effectively gutted the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law Monday, giving states a way out of a decade-long policy that focused on holding schools accountable but labeled many of them failures even if they made progress.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=13&articleid=20110809_13_A3_TeOaaa548444

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

"Morgan said that new facilities was a way to "show respect" to the students." = Absolute nonsensical rhetoric.

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aryastark1984 2 years, 8 months ago

Thought question: If excess capacity is mostly in school X and school Y, but we consolidate schools A, B, C, and D (building several new schools that accommodate existing students, but leaving some room for growth), what happens to your excess capacity?

Smart answer: You get MORE excess capacity

Smarter answer: You get MORE excess capacity and need to consolidate MORE schools (Woodlawn, Prarie Park, you guys are next!!!!). This is only round one people. Pay attention, your school will be next!

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Randy Masten was also quite interested in finances as well. Put up a lot of questions. And was concerned that pay raises/bonus money be equal to avoid the disparity that takes place in the world of corporate america. Which I believe is and should be a concern to a board member. After all BOD members are elected by we taxpayer citizens to guide the administration not the other way around.

Some of the building maintenance on the list above has been around for 10 years. It was simply being ignored perhaps waiting for situations to become worse ..... who knows. Negligence maybe.

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SynjynSmythe 2 years, 8 months ago

Ingram actually has some sense! Imagine that!! No wonder the lovely Ms. Vanessa takes offense!!

What Ingram sees is that the actual consensus from the first taskforce, that apparently came from member Ms. Hack, and was reiterated on Feb. 21, had consolidation of New York with Kennedy, and consolidation of Hillcrest with Sunset as a reasonable remedy. What the last school board, led by Minder & Morgan with Sanburn joining, adopted was Ms. Beeson's newly hatched, last minute scheme to consolidate all SONS schools with a target on them. This scheme inexplicably trumped an actual, prior consensus. The way that taskforce then quickly voted for that scheme, after there had been no majority recommendation on closures for 8 previous months, should make any reasonable person question the entire process. Ingram is a reasonable man! Good for all of us!!

Who chose the taskforce members? Who would know their loyalties? Who would know who would ultimately vote whatever way SONS/Beeson wants? Sanburn would know!

Ingram sees now what a discerning eye saw all along: from a purely economic standpoint, if $3 million was ever actually needed, closing Cordley and Pinckney were the only choice. That did not happen because Doll lied about the $3 million all along. It is becoming an established pattern with Doll now.

Ingram should not only question this entire process, but urge that it be scrapped entirely and professional consultants be hired by the district to advise them objectively!!

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KU_cynic 2 years, 8 months ago

Rick Ingram is asking the right kind of questions. Keep it up, professor.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

According to some data provided by Ingram the perfect school size is around 226.

Let's take New York Elementary which is on the chopping block. A new Gym was added to that school less than 10 years ago which required a fair number of tax dollars. Closing that school demonstrates little respect for how tax dollars are spent.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/oct/how_should_school_district_pay_20_million_maintena/

At $7.5 million USD 497 tax dollars a year in capital outlay funds this maintenance could be accomplished in two years without raising taxes or borrowing money. That money is actually available as we speak. In fact as of August 8,2011 USD 497 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities calls for a $6,440,000 expenditure which includes :

Cordley Deerfield East Heights Hillcrest Kennedy Langston Hughes(replacing floor throughout this new school building) Centennial New York Pinckney Prairie Park Quail Run Schwegler Sunflower Wakarusa Woodlawn

Or some of these schools could be ignored as they have been for about the last ten years and become victims of demolition by neglect which is very reckless indeed.

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 5,198 said yes http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

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WilburM 2 years, 8 months ago

Let's be thankful that Mr. Ingram is focusing on both the facts and the theories that seem to be well accepted by the past board. And let's hope the board takes its time in addressing a host of issues -- neighborhoods, as well as "efficiency" in reaching thoughtful decisions that serve the entire community in reasonable ways. For example, it might just be better to spend a little more on keeping a couple more schools open if that maintained the integrity of strong neighborhoods. At the very least, school board members need to remain at least somewhat independent of the facts and theories put forward by the administration, whose agenda has been disturbingly clear.

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irvan moore 2 years, 8 months ago

yep, i've been taking offense to ms sanburn for a long time

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Benjamin Roberts 2 years, 8 months ago

"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."

I am offended by Ms. Sanburn's willingness to sacrifice other neighborhood schools while, at the same time, unashamedly protecting her own neighborhood school. Woodlawn is the only school in the district, other than those singled out for consolidation, that has a representative on the consolidation task force. This seems to place Woodlawn in a position of favorable status.

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Benjamin Roberts 2 years, 8 months ago

A voice of reason on the school board? District administration must have forgotten to give Mr. Ingram his serving of Kool-aid. Ingram has hit on the exact problems that plagued the previous task force and will be the doom of the new task force.

"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?" This - exactly.

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cato_the_elder 2 years, 8 months ago

“I take offense to that." Good grief. No well-educated person would ever say that. If reported accurately, the fact that a sitting school board member would say something that grammatically incorrect speaks volumes.

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pz5g1 2 years, 8 months ago

small class size has nothing to do with school size. 300-500 can hardly be considered a large school.And these are not "perfectly good buildings." Some are ancient; we've gotten our money's worth out of them. It may well be cheaper to build one new building than upgrade multiple decades-old schools.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

The new board people ask a lot of questions = the way it should be. I hope this continues till death do us part. It keeps the meeting interesting and educational.

What does AYP mean? Adequate Yearly Progress. This meeting produces a lot of worthwhile info for the public and board members...... IMO.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Taxpayers will want absolutely hard evidence that this makes fiscal sense. The whole concept of closing and/or tearing down perfectly good buildings then building new ones will be tough to swallow.

The one fact that remains constant: smaller class sizes STILL produce the most desired results. USD 497 has that scenario in place as we speak aka paid for neighborhood schools. More families are moving into these areas as well = best not close these schools.

Children walking and riding bikes to schools is a healthy concept. Not only that this current system is producing very good results academically. It's not broke.

Also what has been suggested is inequitable consolidation. If consolidation is such a grand idea why isn't the whole district being subjected? It is only on the east side of town primarily.

The original task force that made such decisions were told consolidation was the only option available which left a lot to be desired. The task force was going to keep meeting until that decision was reached.

Of course the BOE consolidation proponents were the ones presenting the case for consolidation which was not fiscal hard evidence by any stretch of the imagination.

It is my assertion that some audits need to take place before displacing students,closing down existing small classes and spending millions upon millions upon millions on new buildings.

USD 497 budgets $4 -$4.5 million for bus service which seems like a lot of school dollars.
Perhaps those dollars could be spent more wisely? Let's try to reduce this cost by 50% or more to cover the cost of teachers.

New large schools will require children coming from all over to to fill these classrooms so why not make use of existing resources aka neighborhood schools rather than put more vehicles on the road or spend more money on bus service?

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