Building more than 350 apartments containing nearly 1,000 bedrooms next door to The Home Depot would do more than attract plenty more college students to the base of Mount Oread.
It also would send families — some with young children — looking for new places to set their mobile homes.
Two likely locations are within the boundaries of Kennedy School, where nearly four out of every five students already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The standing is used by educational leaders as a measure of socioeconomic status, or SES, that requires additional teachers, staffers and other resources to address at-risk needs.
Whether the anticipated moves help solidify or potentially erode support for an eastside plan for school consolidation remains to be seen. One proposal would combine Kennedy and New York schools in a new school that would be built in eastern Lawrence — one that would be expected to serve as the cornerstone of an anticipated bond issue that also would address physical needs of remaining elementary schools throughout the Lawrence school district.
And folks representing Kennedy on the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group — an advisory panel tasked with recommending a plan, by the end of January, for reducing the number of elementary schools from 14 down to either 11 or 12 within the next two years — say bringing in more students could actually strengthen their case.
If more students move into the Kennedy attendance area, including at least some who would be expected to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, Kennedy representatives say they’d have even more reason to consolidate into a combined school.
A bigger school would mean qualifying for — and needing — more resources such as a full-time nurse, a full-time social worker, a full-time assistant principal, smaller class sizes and other associated services district officials regard as the best way to give at-risk kids the best chance to succeed academically and socially in a school environment.
“We’re going to continue to have a large population of children that have special needs,” said Dawn Shew, a Kennedy parent serving on the working group. “We already should have a full-time nurse. With nearly 80 percent low-SES kids? We should already have a full-time nurse. We should have a full-time social worker.
“And that’s the idea behind our plan: If this is a way we can get these services, then OK. Consolidate. These are services we already need, and I don’t know whether I’ve seen a willingness or an ability to provide these services absent consolidation.”
Working on a plan
Another advisory group, the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, already concluded that the district should consolidate schools to eliminate inefficiencies of operating smaller schools and to free up money and resources that could be used to benefit the entire system. Among them would be nursing personnel, social workers and others.
The Lawrence school board, back in February, accepted the task force’s findings and later established the working group to help come up with the best plan for making it a reality.
The working group’s deliberations started earlier this year, before the owners of Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park, 1900 W. 31st St., had secured a contract to sell their 41-acre property to a development company. That’s where Aspen Heights proposes building a “student residential community” consisting of more than 180 house-like structures, which together would contain 352 apartment units and 994 bedrooms.
The land sale is contingent upon developers securing proper zoning from Lawrence city commissioners. Meetings into such issues are set for early next year, but even the prospect of redevelopment already has spurred some residents of the 148 occupied lots in the park to leave.
Some have relocated to Easy Living, a mobile home community behind Target that feeds into Sunflower School. Others have moved their trailers to Harper Woods, which is south of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds and whose young residents attend nearby Kennedy. Brookwood Mobile Home Park also is close to Kennedy, with room for additional residents.
Other Gaslight Village residents simply have left, whereabouts unknown.
“We’ve had a few people abandon homes, just walk away,” said Tom Horner III, an officer in the company that owns Gaslight Village, whose young residents are in the attendance area for Broken Arrow School. “Some have walked away from their homes and left us to clean them up.”
Administrators in the Lawrence school district have not compiled the number of students now living in Gaslight Village or how many would qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches — the standards used to decide how much money schools receive for services such as reading coaches, math specialists and other resources.
Shew simply knows that Kennedy already has the district’s highest concentration of “low-SES” kids, at 79 percent. New York is No. 2, at 73 percent.
Adding more students into the mix — no matter where they stand on the SES scale — should signal that the area simply needs more people, programs and support to help kids succeed, Shew said.
And that means moving toward consolidation, she said: Combine Kennedy and New York, propose a bond issue and secure voter approval for the financing plan that could turn today’s needs into tomorrow’s sustainable realities.
“If consolidation is going to get these kids those services, that’s what we need to do,” Shew said. “We’re in it for the resources.”
The working group’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.