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.