Archive for Monday, February 14, 2011

Schools task force puts off decision on recommending elementary closures

February 14, 2011, 7:35 p.m. Updated February 14, 2011, 11:29 p.m.


Adeline Unekis, center, a third-grader at Pinckney School, attaches ribbons to the fence in front of Pinckney while classmate Evelyne Heironimus-Bishop, right, chases down a wind-blown ribbon Monday. Youngsters wrote on the ribbons what they loved about their school and attached them next to the “We Love Pinckney” banners in front of the school building at 810 W. Sixth St.

Adeline Unekis, center, a third-grader at Pinckney School, attaches ribbons to the fence in front of Pinckney while classmate Evelyne Heironimus-Bishop, right, chases down a wind-blown ribbon Monday. Youngsters wrote on the ribbons what they loved about their school and attached them next to the “We Love Pinckney” banners in front of the school building at 810 W. Sixth St.

Members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force failed to reach a consensus Monday night on whether to recommend closing one or two elementary schools next year, opting instead to decide that issue next week.

Task force members spent the majority of their 90-minute meeting discussing whether they had enough support to recommend closure of two of these three schools: Cordley, Pinckney or Wakarusa Valley.

Some members said that two schools should be closed, saying that money saved could be pumped back into programs that could do the most for providing effective education districtwide.

Others said that closing two schools would be too much, putting too much pressure on remaining schools and eroding support for a future bond issue — one that would be expected to address renovations, additions and construction projects that all task force members acknowledge as necessary.

The group will meet again at 5:30 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive, in an attempt to reach consensus, the group’s stated plan since its appointment in May to create a “community vision” for elementaries amidst fiscal restraints.

Whether the task force will be able to come up with a plan that generates enough support from among its two dozen members remains to be seen.

“Ultimately, we need to have a vote,” said Steve Glass, a task force member, as about 50 observers — principals, school board members, board candidates, parents and others — looked on. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to see what consensus is.”

Task force members did affirm their consensus reached tentatively two weeks ago on a longer-term approach, one that would consolidating four schools into two within three to five years: Kennedy and New York, as well as Hillcrest and Sunset Hill.

Future bond issue

Making those changes, along with financing upgrades to all remaining elementaries districtwide, would require passage of a bond issue. And that prospect came up during task force discussions about potential closures for next year.

Rich Minder, who is president of the Lawrence school board and co-chairman of the task force, suggested recommending closure of one school next year: Wakarusa Valley. The school, located on 10 acres just southeast of Clinton Lake, could be used as a community center for the rural area and still be owned by the district and retained for potential reopening in the future, he said.

Both Cordley and Pinckney would be better candidates to remain open, Minder indicated, citing student walkability, neighborhood stability and other factors within the task force’s goals related to urban design.

Besides, he noted, there’s a political angle related to keeping the two schools — particularly Pinckney, whose attendance area includes homes west of downtown, between Sixth and Ninth streets — open.

“We’re going to be floating bond issues, and I want folks in Old West Lawrence behind this bond,” Minder said during the meeting. “That’s just as plain as I can put that.”

But other task force members threw their support behind closing two schools, although such talk never advanced to the point of selecting which ones.

Chuck Warner, a former bank president, reasoned that closing two schools could be achieved without overcrowding remaining schools, given the planned move of sixth-grade classes into middle schools for next year. The reduction in expenses then could be channeled into new or expanded programs — such as full-day kindergarten districtwide — or toward filling budget holes to be opened next year and beyond by cuts in state financing.

Protecting the insides

Closing schools isn’t as much about saving money, Warner said, as it is about protecting teachers, programs and other educational efforts.

“It’s a decision about where cuts are going to have to be made,” he said. “I’ve become convinced that instruction, … in the long run, has a much greater effect on our kids than the building. If we say, ‘Close no schools,’ then what we’re saying is, ‘It’s got to happen inside the classroom.’ And I can’t bring myself to do that.”

Warner said closing two schools next year, and then consolidating four schools into two schools within three to five years, would do the most good for the long term.

Mike Neal, the task force’s moderator, told members to be ready to decide next week whether to recommend closing one or two schools next year. Two weeks ago, members already had agreed by consensus that maintaining the “status quo” was not an option.

The task force’s final recommendations are due to the Lawrence school board Feb. 28. Any decisions about closing schools would be up to the board.

Andrew Lees, a Pinckney parent who attended the meeting, said he was relieved that no specific decisions about recommendations were reached Monday night.

“Healthy deliberation towards a better decision is better than a hasty decision based only on the numbers,” he said afterward.

Jen Nelson, a leader of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Committee at Wakarusa Valley, noted that while most of Monday’s discussions involved money, the district’s own numbers show that closing Wakarusa Valley would save the least amount of money.

The task force process — launched months ago, to be based on research and “best practices” — sure sounds more like politics at work, she said.

“For some reason there’s a great push to reach a consensus that doesn’t exist,” Nelson said. “They’re pushing for a consensus that’s not there.”


Catalano 7 years, 3 months ago

Geez, Rich, that was a really stupid thing to say.

Catalano 7 years, 3 months ago

You really did a great snow job on everyone eight years ago. Especially some people in Old West Lawrence.

kugrad 7 years, 3 months ago

So I guess this means Rich doesn't want the support of the Cordley neighborhood?

Why are people always trying to push New York and Kennedy together? It isn't that great a fit.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years, 3 months ago

kugrad: Don't you see it? This is the deal Minder struck to save his investment: Delwawre Commons, which is wholly dependent upon the future of New York school. He has agreed to combine New York school with Kennedy (a festering boil of mold)! No, it's not that great a fit, but that doesn't matter to Minder. Minder's investment matters to Minder!

spiderd 7 years, 3 months ago

False accusations and the calling of another school "a festering boil of mold". Classy act Synjyn. East Lawrence appreciates your support.

GMom05 7 years, 3 months ago

Do you know they are false accusations? Just to be on the safe side and because Minder clearly has a conflict of interest due to his financial interest in Delaware Commons and his need for New York Elem. to stay open, we should demand he recuse himself from any votes at the Task Force level or the School Board level (where school closure is concerned). If he truly was not concerned about the fate of New York and his overall urban plan, then he would step aside and let those that are neutral cast their votes. Anything else would compromise the integrity of his argument.

uneekness 7 years, 3 months ago

You guys bashing Minder about Delaware Commons know that almost all of the parents in that thing send their kids to the Waldorff school in the old Grant School building out by the airport, right? I don't think any of the gradeschool age kids there even go to New York.

Business_Guy 7 years, 3 months ago

Rich Minder doesn't understand what a conflict of interest he represents! He shouldn't have a voice when he has investments that sway his decision!

GMom05 7 years, 3 months ago

Or Wakarusa for that matter. He will end up alienating so many people, that we will be left with no schools AND no bond issue and who will suffer the consequences? Our children. He seems to think that we all don't work and do business in Lawrence, even though some live outside the city limits. He may see a bigger backlash than he anticipates with his pet projects in the future. I hope all he needs is the support of Old West Lawrence, but I'm afraid he's going to need to make more people than that happy.

Kookamooka 7 years, 3 months ago

But Sunset and Hillcrest actually are a pretty good fit. Those schools seem really compatible.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years, 3 months ago

Kookamooka: you are correct. Closely located, both serve a similar demographic, both schools need relief from overcrowding and portables, and you can build a new school on Sunset's existing property while keeping both schools open in the interim!

weeslicket 7 years, 3 months ago

actually, closing/consolidating schools "saves" very little in terms of real value. the salaries of: principal, secretary, custodian, maybe a few food service personnel, and others? but you still own the building/s (plenty of money for that. just ask mary loveland.)

here's a few better questions: what does the disctrict "say" they will do with these "savings"? will any of those monies be put into classrooms? (teachers in the room? increased instructinal time?) or somewhere else? (not teachers in the room. or more useful time. just ask mary loveland.)

(wait for it)

Synjyn Smythe 7 years, 3 months ago

The scenarios given to the taskforce tonight prove your point. The discussion tonight indicated that some of the capital savings would go to fix up existing schools. Operating costs vary widely, but of the scenarios given closing Cordley and Pinckney would save alot of cash! Trouble is that if they also combine Kennedy/New York, that leaves only one school to serve that entire area, not including Prairie Park. What kind of equity is that?? Better yet, what kind of equity is served by closing Wakarusa, and throwing that whole segment of our community under the bus?? You can kiss community schools goodbye under the present Minder/Morgan agenda!!

greywolf85203 7 years, 3 months ago

Actually that is Dr. Dolls vision. He has stated that neighborhood schools do not work. Which is funny since it has worked for the last 32 years and longer. And Minder is no friend to this district. I know as a property owner in this town I will not vote for a bond issue if they close any schools without looking at the big picture. Why close two? Are all three on the list worthy of closer? Are there repairs needed that cost more than the school is worth? There is one for sure because it does not meet requirements for the Disablity act. But the other two are not so bad. One on the list just needs more children if they redid the bounderies and send more children to that school that is all that is needed to save that school!

alm77 7 years, 3 months ago

What would it take to get rid of Doll?

GMom05 7 years, 3 months ago

Apparently a lot, if you have to have the support of the School Board. A unanimous decision.

alm77 7 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, I just read that. So the next question is what would it take to change his vision of mega-mentary schools?

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 3 months ago

After viewing the "community" task force this evening, it would be better to comment in the morning.

TNPlates 7 years, 3 months ago

After seeing the redistribution map for Pinckney under the "Close Pinckney" option, you have to wonder what the folks of that school did to anger the Task Force. The children of Pinckney will end up being moved to five different schools with the OWL and Pinckney neighborhoods being gerrymandered in a way that would make Topeka Republicans proud (and maybe Topeka Dems in their wildest pipedreams).

Minder has one thing right - if you close a school - Pinckney or other - you will lose parents support of a bond. They may not have that support now as it is with all this "divide and conquer" approach their taking with the schools.

EarthaKitt 7 years, 3 months ago

Ditto here. I was shocked to see the plan to redistribute those students. It's so hard to watch the continued unequal support of schools across Lawrence. The kids east of Iowa are taking it on the chin.

GMom05 7 years, 3 months ago

Ridiculous Politics! Does it even matter if my child learns anything, so long as certain school board members go down in the history books, further their own political aspirations, or make more money off of their real estate deals?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

What I find hard to understand after sitting in on both meetings is money is scarce yet USD 497 approved nearly $500,000 for new bleachers? Is there an end in sight on the sports project spending ? Where does this money come from? $500,000 would keep Wakrusa open?

Remember this:

And this:

The school bus contract is costing somewhere between $4 - $4.5 million. So was observed last night. What I found curious about this approving this motion was no dollars were discussed and no dollar amount was included in the motion. The cost surfaced after a question from a concerned taxpayer. It is a flexible budget item depending on how many students are riders each day. In the end no one knows for sure until the the buses stop for the season.

uneekness 7 years, 3 months ago

Remember, capital funds cannot be used to fund operations - that is the state law. Plus, it violates the state constitution if monies raised via referendum (public vote) are not used for the purpose stated on the ballot. So as much as I had seeing the that pot of money go to waste on double football stadiums and the like, that's not going to change without changes to state law.

GMom05 7 years, 3 months ago

Capital funds ARE used, however, for things like replacing a leaky roof at Kennedy, or putting in an elevator at Cordley. It seems the school board yet again has thrown the elementary school's repairs and maintenance under the school bus, in favor of athletics.

Catalano 7 years, 3 months ago

This is from the task force report:

"Preliminary cost savings information from the District indicates it could anticipate saving approximately $400,000 to $600,000 in operating costs for any single school building that is closed. If a scenario results in new bus routes being added, the cost for a single new bus route is approximately $30,000."

Wow. They could have kept one school open and not upgraded the bleachers at the high schools ($500K). How freaking stupid do these people think we are?

irvan moore 7 years, 3 months ago

uh, we were stupid enough to elect them so i got a feeling they know we must be pretty darn stupid.

average 7 years, 3 months ago

The question needs to be looked at from the tail-end, too. That is, what becomes of the buildings/sites if they are truly surplus? Shoving more administrators, oddball programs, community centers, or leaving them to sit rotting for years isn't saving much tax money. You have to consider which of them you could actually be sold off the rolls.

Unfortunately, since it's my nearest school and the idea makes me nauseous to suggest, that logic puts Hillcrest in the crosshairs. Student-oriented housing. Yuck, but there you go. Land (playground) to add more floor space and more parking. Cordley, is probably the second on that list, just for the land (particularly if the place is leveled before). Pinckney a

Waky Valley isn't going to bring crap at auction. That's why the whole 'community center owned by the district' idea, which doesn't save that damned much.

LogicMan 7 years, 3 months ago

As I just posted on the other story, if it must be closed, for now, mothball but don't sell Wakarusa. It will be needed for Lawrence's designated southern growth area once growth resumes.

dragonfly0221 7 years, 3 months ago

Mike Neal, the task force’s moderator, told members to be ready to decide next week whether to recommend closing one or two schools next year. Two weeks ago, members already had agreed by consensus that maintaining the “status quo” was not an option.

Sounds to me like the decision is made and they are just patronizing the public.

kugrad 7 years, 3 months ago

They'll drag their feet, elections for School Board are in April aren't they??

persevering_gal 7 years, 3 months ago

If you look at the documents presented by the task force, they make absolutely NO sense in terms of saving money or space! If they are looking for more space, then they need to reconsider their options that they have presented. Even local architects have been trying to figure out what the task force is thinking, because they technically will be shooting themselves in the foot if they close Pinckney. It's not about "Hey, this school is not as good as this one," but rather about going by what the task force is looking for, and they certainly are not following their own expectations:

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 3 months ago

Here is my impression of last night's Task Force meeting. Mediator: We're here to see if we have a consensus on closing two of the three schools, Pickney, Cordley, or Wakarusa. If you have any questions - Dr. Doll will get back with you. In the meantime, once again, shall we close two schools? (asked over and over) Questions and comments from Task Force. Okay, no clear consensus..... Shall we close one? In jump Minder and Morgan: Close Waky!!!!. " What about all the findings from the committees? Never mind that.....which school shall we close? Please stay focused: we only have 15 more minutes. If we don't decide now, you'll have to come back next week. Surreal.

FormerTiger 7 years, 3 months ago

This decision is the job of the BOE - not the Task Force - the administration has as pawns to provide political cover for administration and BOE. Inform the elected officials, allow public comment, and let them make the decisions - that's why they were elected.

weeslicket 7 years, 3 months ago

very nice. i will soon post this same link on today's article.

  1. first of all, closing or consolidating schools saves very little money ("operating costs"?). a handful of employees would be "downsized" (please refer to my 10:01 post yesterday).

  2. as mary loveland will tell you, it really doesn't matter what the capital outlay costs are for ANY building in the district-- there is always money for that.

  3. (wait for it) what does the district intend to do with these "savings"? well, let dr. doll tell you himself

in case you are not able to access this link (it has been a bit fussy for me) at about 6:06, dr. doll says: "Conduct a resource review and strongly consider closing schools and using the savings to bolster the instructional program, particularly the loss of instructional coaches and central office staff."

READ: "savings" = hire central office staff "bolster" the instructional program = hire more administrators

  1. next time you hear these folks talk about putting money into instruction and classrooms, just know, once again, they are really talking about putting money into bureaucrats.

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