Archive for Monday, December 19, 2011

Bond support builds, as consolidation plans for Lawrence elementary schools lag

Representatives of Pinckney School on the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group gather to discuss upcoming meetings. Seated, from left, are David Unekis, Stacey White and Karla Hughes. Standing, from left, are John Wilkins, an architect hired by the Lawrence school district to assist with the group's deliberations, and Pinckney teacher Alison Nye.

Representatives of Pinckney School on the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group gather to discuss upcoming meetings. Seated, from left, are David Unekis, Stacey White and Karla Hughes. Standing, from left, are John Wilkins, an architect hired by the Lawrence school district to assist with the group's deliberations, and Pinckney teacher Alison Nye.

December 19, 2011

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If there’s one thing members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group can agree on, it’s this: A bond issue to upgrade elementary schools should be prepared, proposed and approved.

The details, of course, would need to be worked out, several members of the working group mentioned during a meeting Monday night.

And key to that would be whether closing elementary schools might be considered an impediment to building public support for a bond issue to finance new roofs, additional classrooms and other upgrades that have been stuck on a waiting list as the Lawrence school board waits to see what the future holds.

The working group may have been formed to decide which two or three of six consolidation candidates — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill schools — should close within the next couple of years, but Monday night’s conclusions focused more on finding additional financing in the future than dealing with an increasing scarcity of operational revenues in the present.

The district already has endured operational budget cuts from the state amounting to more than $9 million during the past three years and faces the possibility that more could be on the way. Earlier this year, another volunteer advisory group recommended closing Wakarusa Valley School and appointing the working group to identify two or three others.

The school board closed Wakarusa Valley, appointed the working group and is waiting for the group to use its three remaining scheduled meetings to provide a plan for shrinking the district’s roster of elementary schools from 14 to either 11 or 12.

Whether or not the working group makes its end-of-January deadline or compiles a plan that meets the board’s instructions remains an open question. But group members appear settled on accepting the idea that a bond issue — an idea suggested by the board to finance consolidation, a way to save operational money through capital spending — should happen, regardless of whether consolidation does.

“Even if we come to a conclusion that our charge is somehow flawed, we still … want a bond,” said Kelly Jones, a representative from Cordley School, whose representatives argued Monday night that all schools should remain open. “We want a bond. We all want that recommendation to come out. We all want improvements to our schools.”

Group members debated what to discuss during their next meeting before coming up with a list that includes identifying “common themes” and discussing what each school community would need if it faced closure. Consolidation possibilities also will be discussed.

The next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 2 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Comments

buffalo63 3 years, 5 months ago

After the reckless spending by the District on the athletic fields, Dr. Doll and company better have some firm long range and solid plans for buildings, their use and costs before they propose a bond issue if they expect it to have any chance of passing. Not like the fields that they constantly changed design, subtituted materials (Lights) and still got it wrong. Also, not like South Middle School with short cuts leaving $2 million they seemed to spend more than once.

grimpeur 3 years, 5 months ago

Um, I'm pretty sure we just approved a bond. What did the board do with it? Well, they blew it on a trophy project that went over budget and under service level. Are the board members who approved the stadia yet immortalized on a plaque so as to serve as a cautionary tale to future generations?

But the real question are:

Could the money spent on athletic fields been spent on elementary improvements?

Given that any board member or citizen paying attention could/should have seen the need for these improvements 5 years ago, why did the board choose to ignore these needs and instead build overblown sports facilities and excess, unnecessary, congestion-producing parking?

And now they're back asking for more? Ummmm...no.

GardenMomma 3 years, 5 months ago

"Could the money spent on athletic fields been spent on elementary improvements?"

The answer to that question is "YES!!! It could have been spent on capital improvements but not operating expenses.

Bob Forer 3 years, 5 months ago

Absurd. Closing schools, then building new ones during an economic downturn.

conservative 3 years, 5 months ago

The only way that bond issue should pass is if it is closing existing schools and consolidating. That would save money on administration and give better resources to the children. For those of you who don't understand how this saves money look at the millions in upgrades and retrogrades required to bring those 6 schools into compliance and make them on a par with the other schools.

Selective_Tourettes 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey PFCMcBitchalot, another hit and run post?

conservative 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes, the budget for renovating would be from the bond issues. The ongoing operating cost benefits for the school district would go on indefinately. Why is that a hard concept to understand?

conservative 3 years, 5 months ago

What are you rambling about? How on earth does it cost more to ensure equity in larger schools than it does in smaller ones? It will cost less because the resources currently spending lots of time travelling between schools will be able to spend more time with students than in their cars. And I was opposed to the whole two stadium thing. It was a waste of money making two stadiums. But why let little things like facts interfere with your belief that dilapidated schools should be kept open at any cost, especially when it is those costs that are the reason for the increase in class sizes at schools across the district.

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

The only way that consolidation saves money is by firing teachers and creating larger class sizes. You can see direct evidence of this as a result of closing Wakarusa. Class sizes have gotten significantly larger at both Sunflower AND at Broken Arrow.
Larger class sizes are not a huge problem for affluent kids, but they are for low income kids and ESL kids. So to save any money at all with consolidation of (say) Kennedy and New York, you would need to put this population of low SES kids (~80% if you combined the two schools) into larger classes. If you actually care about educational outcomes, you would need to create a school with smaller class sizes, but then you lose your cost savings.

You can argue that all kids in every school should have the same class size, outcomes be damned, that would be the "equality" argument. Or, you could recognize that some kids need additional resources to achieve the same goal. That would be the equity argument.

Bob_Loblaw 3 years, 5 months ago

This poster is 100% CORRECT.......the others....eh...not so much.

conservative 3 years, 5 months ago

Firing teachers no, but consolidation does get rid of principals, office staff, lunch staff, and maintenance staff at the closed schools. All of which actually frees up money in the budget to allow more teachers.

kuguardgrl13 3 years, 5 months ago

No, no, no, no, no!!!! Increased class sizes is the absolute last thing these kids need! Classes of 35-40 kids mean the teacher has to give attention to ALL of those kids, leaving no room for any personalized attention. With NCLB the way it is, teachers have to make sure that their students are prepared to take the tests, something the east and central Lawrence schools struggle with. No, they need to use money to repair the existing buildings and perhaps rearrange boundaries to level out the numbers of students in each building and spread out the poorer and ELL students. Currently, they are concentrated in east Lawrence. They may even want to consider reopening East Heights if they truly have been off with their growth projections. I can understand why Lawrence residents are upset about how bond money has been used in the past, but this is why school board meetings tend to be public! Voice your opinions to the people who can act on those opinions. Complaining on the comment page of the local newspaper's website is not going to do much, let's be honest. If your child is an elementary student or will be soon, you should be voicing your opinions loud and clear! For those with older children or without any kids, think about the next generation. We want each of these kids to have a quality education so they can succeed in the future. Lawrence is a town that supports academia which should include our young students just as much as the university (although the locals also tend to question what happens on the hill too, but that's a different argument). After all, their taxes will one day pay for your Medicare.

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

Spread out ELL? Terrible idea. Even the district understands that. ELL in Lawrence is different than ELL in many communities. In many communities, ELL means communities that speak a single language (Spanish, or Korean, or Hmong). Because of the University, we have a polyglot. There are over 30 languages spoken by kids at Hillcrest and Cordley. One of the advantages of having a cluster site is that kids serve as peer translators. One Korean child who has been in the US for several years serves as a translator for a child new to the US. One child from Palestine serves as a translator for a new child from Saudi Arabia. These children don't all necessarily live in the same neighborhood, but Hillcrest and Cordley offer a community where they find friends from similar cultures and find a shared culture of being a welcomed visitor or immigrant. There are distinct educational AND cultural advantages.

The idea of moving kids to their "home neighborhood" sounds nice in theory, but would actually break up a functional community and an ELL program with years of experience working with children who speak many different languages.

grammaddy 3 years, 5 months ago

If money is needed that badly, sell one of the golf courses. I bet there are more elementary kids than golfers.

conservative 3 years, 5 months ago

grammaddy I agree completely the city shouldn't be in the golf course business, however you and I both know that even if they did that the city couldn't funnel the savings into the school budget.

irvan moore 3 years, 5 months ago

why do people hate the golf course? it's being paid for by tax dollars just like all the other recreational areas the city provides, no different than a ball field or soccer field or swimming pool or rec center. i don't use any of them but can understand why we need (or want) to provide them.

lunacydetector 3 years, 5 months ago

another bond for the schools....of course history says they'll get their bond, probably have the thing advertised in our water bill.

when is enough enough? i'm still trying to find one person who voted for our library fiasco.

Mike Myers 3 years, 5 months ago

I did vote for the library, happily in fact. It is going to be just about the coolest thing since sliced bread and somthing our city can be really prooud of. I'll vote for the school bond also no matter which way they go. There is no better money spent than money spent on education be it libraries or schools.

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

Please make sure that the money from the bonds will actually go towards things you agree with before you vote for it.

I was very disappointed that money from a bond issue I voted for went to large athletic fields, when my understanding was that they would go towards repair and improvements of buildings, classrooms, etc.

dpd 3 years, 5 months ago

Athletic fields and school funding come from completely different places!

pinecreek 3 years, 5 months ago

"Athletic fields and school funding come from completely different places!"

Ah no...they come from the same place--my taxes.

Bond issue? Just say NO.

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

I think it depends on what the bond is for. If it is for tearing down and building new schools-which ultimately will not save much, if anything, in operating costs. Then count me out.

But, if the bond is to repair existing elementary schools, than I am all for it. When I pick my daughter up at school today, I expect to have to dodge buckets. The roof leaks and has been leaking for a long time. It is a complete and utter fiction that most of these schools need major repairs. Several need new roofs and couple need new heating/cooling systems. While we may need a bond to do these repairs, it would be a much smaller bond than building new.

To paraphrase Scott Morgan, the neglect of the East side elementary schools is a sign of how much we (dis) respect, our elementary students, especially those on the East side of town.

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

Sure.

The problem is that I voted for a bond issue for "capital improvements", which was supposed to go towards the kinds of things you mention, and then they spent a good chunk of it on athletic fields.

That makes me quite wary of voting for another "capital improvement" bond - how do I know they will spend it as I'd like?

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

OK. Lets put some facts on the table here. The district paid a lot of money for a consulting firm to look at data and do growth projections for the elementary districts. What were the results you ask? Here is the link so that you can see for yourself.

http://www.usd497.org/consolidation/documents/LawrenceProjections201112_ES.pdf

Here are the high points as they pertain to consolidation:

The 5 year capacity figures for the schools that are targeted for consolidation are as follows:

Cordley: 98% capacity Hillcrest: 128% capacity Kennedy: 76% capcity New York: 120% capacity Pinkney: 80% cpacity Sunset Hill: 89% capacity

Schools that are not on the slate for consolidation, but would be affected by boundary changes so that consolidation would not result in 600 kid schools:

Broken Arrow: 115% Prarie Park: 71% Schwegler: 85% Sunflower: 114% Woodlawn: 91%

And keep in mind, this does not factor in closing the trailer park near Target. The district believes that those children are likely to move into the Sunset Hill or Kennedy school districts.

This whole fiasco was predicated on the assumption that the East side was shrinking and the growth was on the West side of town. It turns out he was flat out wrong. When smart people find out they are wrong, they admit it and move on.

irvan moore 3 years, 5 months ago

it seems to me the money the taxpayers contribute to the schools has been misspent and that is why we have the problems we are dealing with now. the schoolboard should have to live within a budget and spend money on basics first and frills in better times.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

"A bond issue to upgrade elementary schools should be prepared, proposed and approved."

A bond issue is not necessary. It can all be achieved under the normal budget allocation over 3 years as taxpayers have suggested that is the way the way they want it.

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/

Something to think about: School Priorities: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/oct/22/school-priorities/#c1027186

What do you think of a proposed 3-mill property tax increase for Lawrence schools? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/jul/what_do_you_think_proposed_3mill_property_tax_incr/

Teacher Salary Support: Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

USD 497 said it needed $3 million in 2011.

Are WE USD 497 taxpayers willing to come up with $3 million?

Laying off teachers is not the answer.

Public school students use the T as we speak. Can the T provide service to some parents for less money? How many ways can the T assist USD 497 parents.

Are WE USD 497 taxpayers willing to come up with $3 million?

IF 75% of bussed students were no longer bussed: 75% of $4,000,000 = $3,000,000 (million)

75% of $4,500,000 = $3,375,000

This bus service was not put out for bid to the best of my knowledge. Although the numbers were compared to what other districts were paying. Is this the best we can do?

Saving three million dollars annually on bus service may be necessary. It is my view obviously that this special committee must think about all financial avenues to produce the most fiscal responsible decision.

Exactly how is school consolidation the most fiscal responsible avenue? Where is the hard evidence? Says who?

Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

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/

The above is the most fiscal responsible course of action. It closes no schools,requires no bond issue and make the absolute best use of existing resources.

A bond issue is not necessary. It can all be achieved under the normal budget allocation over 3 years as taxpayers have suggested that is the way the way they want it.

There has been a back door movement to close some schools and build new ones for almost 10 years. This concept is absurd and irresponsible.

Who wants to take on more tax increases for a project that can indeed fund itself over a 3 year period. We have a way to fund building repairs which is the bottom line.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 5 months ago

Time to stop cutting the academic staff in favor of buildings and expensive land purchases.!

USD 497 taxpayers were forced to blow $20 million USD 497 tax dollars for a sport projects. This did nothing for teacher support and school supplies.

USD 497 has no way to support our teachers. This is the issue where our energies should be focused.

USD 497 needs to get creative and find more money for teachers. Once again USD 497 can fund building repairs with a current property tax funding source.

Teachers Teachers Teachers Teachers Teachers should be the focus NOT more new buildings!

Teacher Salary Support: Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

Why in the hell did USD 497 pay $23,000 per acre for 75 acres of unimproved land?

Flap Doodle 3 years, 5 months ago

How many times have you cited that 8 year old poll, merrill? Do you think it would still get the same results today?

aRobot 3 years, 5 months ago

I seem to remember an $8,000,000 technology bond that the school district received several years ago. Has anyone ever followed up to see how that money was used, and whether or not there was ever a solid, transparent plan about how to implement and integrate technology in the classroom? I've noticed that over the years the board has approved request after request for more money for technology. Did the giant technology bond just encourage wasteful spending without oversight that only led to continued wasteful spending without oversight? Throwing money at something without first having a solid, long-term plan on how to use the money responsibly is a bad idea. Start holding people accountable for how our tax dollars are spent by the school district. Look at past bonds and how they were utilized, and then we can talk about future bonds. I do not want to give more money to USD497 until I feel secure that someone will be held accountable for wasted money and resources.

ResQd 3 years, 5 months ago

I agree! I think the LJW should do some more research and go back the last 5-7 years and let us know exactly what bonds were passed and what they were used for. It seems to me every time we turn around they want more bond money for the schools. And, they seem to get it every time they start talking about closing schools and consolidation.

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

I hear you. I think what we need to demand is that the bond be written with some fairly explicit language about how the money is spent (i.e., the money shall be spent to completed deferred maintenance on elementary school facilities or to upgrade facilities to meet various code requirements). I would vote for that.

I get your anger, but if we keep deferring these repairs, we will either have a) catastrophic safetey consequences or b) will actually need to build new buildings.

ResQd 3 years, 5 months ago

Laughing. I think he's looking at himself in the mirror and picking out the spinach he had for lunch.

walleye9898 3 years, 5 months ago

Excuse me but time for a point of order -- They did not close Wakarusa Valley Elementary. They just ran the kids & teacher off so it could become the new home for the Lawrence Virtual School. Parking lot is filled with cars every day! It now houses the LVS for grades K-8 and according to USD website, at present, 1079 students in grades K-8 from across the state of Kansas are enrolled. Also, the gym is rented out fairly consitently so they can make money off that also. Some may say I thought LVS was at (formerly closed) Centennial. Not any more! K-* has been pushed out so they have more (virtual) room for Virtual High School, Adult Learning, GED completion and of course teaching JCCC classes.

So you were lied to about Centennial and now you have been lied to about Wakarusa!

Clevercowgirl 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes, and the space is utilized at about 15%. Why not house the LVS in Miss Piggy...uh, I mean the ESDC. Then you would have a perfectly good school to use while the consolidation shell game is being played.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 5 months ago

Dpd (anonymous) says… "Athletic fields and school funding come from completely different places!"

Not so, dpd. The funding for the sports complexes was from school construction and repair "savings". That's why trust of USD 497 is so low. See buffalo63's post at the top of this blog.

honestone 3 years, 5 months ago

There are two things that will have to occure for a bond issue to possibly pass. No consolidation - It will be very hard to ask people for more money while we are closing neighborhood school and the bond issue will have to be so specific that the board can't divert funds from identified repairs.

grimpeur 3 years, 5 months ago

"Voters were not asked for permission to build football stadiums, tennis courts, soccer fields or ballparks, but that’s where a significant portion of the money went."

The board has done a textbook bait and switch.

Questions for the board:

Do the schools need maintenance? A: Yes.

When do you think it should have been evident that such maintenance would be needed? A: about 6 years ago.

Where was the school board during the recession? Good question.

Could this money, which (stadium supporters remind us) was not available for salaries, etc., have been used for capital improvements other than stadia? A: Yes

Who could have predicted the current need for capital improvements (other than stadia) throughout the district? A: almost everybody who is paying attention.

Why did board rush ahead with expenditures on sports fields instead of funding our children's educational needs and caring for their schools? Nother good question.

Somebody got their athletic fields. But the citizenship of the district is at an all-time low. Bad planning, bad priorities, bad deal for all of us.

Let's review:


September 28, 2004 The bond likely will include money to improve the junior high schools and the science labs at Lawrence High School, and likely will be about $40 million.

Several board members said athletic needs were important but didn't seem to be as big of a priority as educational needs at this time.

"It's not that athletic facilities are bad -- they're good," said board member Rich Minder. "I just don't see a football field making us more efficient."

October 10, 2004 While ideas and opinions have been tossed around for a new bond referendum, details of what will be included haven't been nailed down. But it has been said the bond issue could be from $40 million to $45 million.

October 18, 2004 Based on the current $53.6 million proposed bond plan, about $3.6 million would be spent at LHS to renovate science rooms, locker rooms and add a new entrance onto the gym. Of the $3.6 million, about $810,000 would go toward renovating science rooms.

February, 10, 2005 The group presented information prepared by the school district that estimates the $63 million in improvements would increase the district's property tax rate by 2.25 mills from 46.72 mills to 48.97 mills.


Not one of these stories states the need for athletic field improvements. Not one. And check the steadily increasing outlay. Let's keep our eye on that this time. Complete, itemized, scheduled disbursement of every single dollar from here on out.

Every.

Single.

Dollar.

To the board: children, if you spend all your money on candy, you won't have any left for clothes. Your choice. Oops, I see you've already made your choice. Enjoy the candy.

Vote NO on the school bond.

aryastark1984 3 years, 5 months ago

I am with you on the frustration. But, we MUST do something about the elementary school facilities. Voting NO on a bond to repair schools punishes the kids, not the school board.

Keep in mind that the current board is made up of mostly new people. The architects of this fiasco are mostly gone.

Hold their feet to the fire and require them to closely specify how the bond money will be spent, YES. Allow them to continue to demolish (by neglect) the East Side elementary schools, NO.

Again, it is not the kids fault, but they are the ones that suffer.

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