Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force clear on choices, mum on advice

February 19, 2011


After eight months of compiling, studying, touring, reading, assessing, writing, meeting, discussing, calculating and otherwise preparing to define a vision for the future of the Lawrence school district’s elementary schools, members of an appointed task force now find themselves left with a single responsibility.

That would be deciding.

And whether the two-dozen members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force actually will settle on some recommendations Monday night is an open question, especially as it pertains to a divisive point awaiting consensus: Whether to recommend closing one or two elementary schools for next year.

Even more contentious: Which school or schools should close, if any.

“It may be unworkable for the task force,” said Marcel Harmon, a member of the group who is still seeking background information and data to help guide his decisions. “It’s a pretty heavy recommendation, even though we know it’s just a recommendation.”

Instead, it will be members of the Lawrence school board who will make any decisions about whether to close a school or schools for the 2011-12 academic year or beyond. The district is facing an estimated budget cut of $3 million because of declines in revenue from the state.

But board members did form the task force back in May, an effort to build a long-term and budget-conscious plan through consensus from a broad cross-section of the community.

The task force’s given charge was simple: Recommend a vision and plan based on “varied community and educational values,” and how to reflect those values given “restraints of current and anticipated resources.”

The board said it was seeking suggestions for improving the district’s 15 elementary schools, with stated options that could include school replacement, remodeling and closure.

Task force members already have reached tentative consensus on the first two options:

l Replacement: Within three to five years, consolidate Kennedy and New York schools in eastern Lawrence, and Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools in central Lawrence.

l Remodeling: Reports identify upgrades, repairs, additions and other work necessary at each school — including elimination of all portable classrooms — although members have not considered any specific plan. Such work likely would be included in a proposal for a future bond issue.

Closure? Back on Jan. 31, task force members tentatively agreed to study potential closure of either one or two of three specific schools for next year: Cordley, 1837 Vt.; Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St.; or Wakarusa Valley, 1104 E 1000 Road.

Maintaining the status quo had been dismissed as untenable.

Consensus elusive

But last Monday, task force members entered district headquarters through a crowd of Pinckney supporters outside. In the meeting room, about 50 people listened as members were urged to seek consensus about whether to pursue closure of either one school or two, and to identify which one or ones.

Task force members often leaned on their background material, gathered during months of meetings and site visits and e-mail communications involving four subcommittees whose collective work produced 13 criteria for recommendations.

But even the school board president acknowledged that such work could only go so far.

“There is evidence in all of the committees’ reports to support any proposal,” said Rich Minder, board president and co-chairman of the task force.

Mark Bradford, the board’s vice president, sat in the audience as the discussions bounced from support for saving one school to advocating for closure of two or perhaps more, or maybe none. Fellow board members Vanessa Sanburn and Mary Loveland were there, too.

The talk avoided specific recommendations so often that facilitator Mike Neal invited task force members to forward their opinions via e-mail to help move the process ahead. None followed through — not with specific recommendations, anyway.

“I guess I was a little discouraged, perhaps, by the lack of people willing to have an open discussion as to go one way or another,” Bradford said. “This is where the rubber meets the road.”

Bradford still thinks the task force — “this great cross-section of the community” — will come through with concrete, specific recommendations for “naming names” of schools to be closed, all based on thousands of hours spent compiling and creating invaluable criteria to guide making such important decisions.

He’s uncertain what would happen next, should the evidence and testimony fail to produce a verdict.

‘Part of the process’

“It could be like a deadlocked jury: We ask them to go back, redeliberate and have some more meetings, have some more discussions,” Bradford said. “I guess the other side would be: ‘Thank you for your service,’ and then we’d have to take their information and come up with our own recommendations.”

While the task force has been striving for consensus, the school board would be tied to a less-stringent but more defined standard of decision-making.

“We’d need a majority,” he said.

The task force meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. Board members are scheduled to receive — but not act upon — the recommendations a week later.

Task force members, meanwhile, continue to receive pointed communications from people concerned about their schools, particularly the ones being discussed for potential closure.

“I certainly empathize with the school board members,” said Harmon, the task force member who is still mulling options. “It’s certainly not an enjoyable part of the process, but we realize it’s all part of the process.”


irvan moore 7 years, 3 months ago

this school board is not neighborhood friendly, they take our money, waste it, and keep comming back for more. they have spent our money unwisely and then want to bail themselves out by closing neighborhood schools at the cost of the children and trhe neighborhoods. these pigs have been at the trough to long.

GardenMomma 7 years, 3 months ago

So, what would you suggest? It's apparent that others agree (myself included) with you. There are nine people running for school board positions. That should shake things up. But in the meantime, what would you suggest be done?

Enough with the negative energy! Most people will agree that the school board has made some pretty rotten choices and it looks they are on their way to being voted out. So until that happens, how about focusing energy on fixing the problem rather than playing the blame game?

irvan moore 7 years, 3 months ago

my suggestion would be to table any discussion on the subject of closing schools until the next school board takes over. as you said most of us don't agree with the choices this board has made so why let them make another bad/difficult choice? one more year is not going to make enough of a difference to justify a bad decision. this board has proven it has an agenda to close neighborhood schools, let the decision wait for the next board.

kugrad 7 years, 3 months ago

Really? Well, I would tend to agree with you if it were not for one big fact: They need to find $1 million dollars savings NOW and $2 million during the next school fiscal year. So, the relevant question is this: Where is the money going to come from?

Some people will just pile on with uninformed comments about how much waste is in the system, about building athletic fields, and other issues that often do not apply due to school finance law or that are in the past and too late to change. Anyone who has watched this process over the last 2 or 3 years knows that there is no secret stash of cash, no huge inefficiencies to slash, nothing left to cut except teachers, staff, and other things that will impact the quality of children's education.

So, to all who offer suggestions I ask this: Please focus your suggestions on identifying the cuts you suggest and your rationale.

jackson5 7 years, 3 months ago

The district already found over $1 million in savings to cover this year's cuts. This was presented at the 1/24/11 board meeting and the cuts were so uncontroversial, the board didn't even need to vote on it. See page 9.

But I agree that the stashes of cash are not secret. They can be found in the budget if anyone cares to look.

kugrad 7 years, 3 months ago

I think you are reading that powerpoint wrong. Some of the cuts discussed were those made in the summer. If you look at the total figure at the end, the $1million needed for savings this year is rolled over (I am not sure I understand how) into the 2011-12 year making the total over $3 million instead of the $2 million resulting from funding changes by the state to the 2011-12 school year. So, we are still looking at a $3 million + figure.

Amy Albright 7 years, 3 months ago

My question is what's the long range plan? If the eventual goal is to wind up with a mega school, with all neighborhood schools closed, then why are we continually putting money into neighborhood school improvements only to close them a year or two later? No decision should be made until there is a long range plan in place.

Also, maybe it's time to talk about the state tax codes that have led to these devastating budget shortfalls. Maybe it's time to stop giving tax breaks to businesses/developers and restore some of our tax codes to sustainable levels. Whether we keep our neighborhood schools, make additions to some for consolidation or build one giant new one, it's going to take money.

Currant 7 years, 3 months ago

Long-range planning is indeed essential. And before that can happen, the District needs better data on its existing schools. This Task Force, which has likely done hundreds of thousands of dollars of free consulting work, in some cases was working with only estimates of critical elements like classroom sizes. Show us the data, please, USD 497.

LeCroix 7 years, 3 months ago

First off let me say that picking any school out of a group, under any circumstance, is not an easy task. With that said this current endeavor in Lawrence should get a totally fresh set of eyes - preferably from consultants outside of the community. This thing is already wrapped up in politics rather than facts.

A quick view of the actual data provided by Task Force confirms this. Based on the Task Force data and goals - Broken Arrow and Woodlawn should be in serious consideration for closure. Several people have spoken out about the subpar learning environment at Broken Arrow and the Taskforces own report shows Woodlawn has a capacity of less than 300 students (they would need to eliminate portables and add classrooms just to get there), a high % of classes under 720 square foot (64%), and has ADA issues. Addressing ADA issues are not cheap. For reference, the Taskforces own figures estimate Cordleys ADA renovation about 1.6 million. Broken Arrow has an even larger percentage of classrooms under 720 at 73%. Why would close schools that meet the criteria, while we pump more money into making other buildings acceptable given the current budget crisis. Both Woodlawn and Broken Arrow would need money immediately to reach the goals. Other than a 56% percentage of classrooms under 720 square feet, Pinckney already meets all the goals for the long term. It currently has a capacity of over 300 students and already has all day Kindergarten.

When the crisis facing the district is coming up with money now, it doesnt make a whole lot of sense to back plans that just cost more and more money. When one school is awaiting tests to see if it needs to be shut down based on Air quality and other such problems wouldn't it be a no brainer for it to be at least heavily considered on immediate list of closures? I urge anyone on here to take the names of the schools out of the picture and then look at the data in relation to the goals. See which school you would pick for closure.

alm77 7 years, 3 months ago

We have the money to keep up the buildings.

But will bussing kids to their mega-mentary school cost less than operating neighborhood schools?

No one has answered the question that I keep hearing and that is this: Did the school board make the 1 million dollar savings recommendation made by the Save Our Neighborhood Schools group last year?

My doubt is whether or not operating neighborhood schools is really as unfeasible as we're being told.

rhd99 7 years, 3 months ago

If you go back a few years, the issue of school closures was heating up because a parent complained that Cordley Elementary School did NOT comply with Americans with Disabilities regulations, whereas Centennial School did. Yet, the board in its so-called infinite wisdom saw fit to close Centennial and keep Cordley open. Why am I mentioning this? It's because the aformentioned issue of back then applies to today. I agree this board does not give a rip about what closing schools does to the neighborhoods. However, it's our responsibility as taxpayers to stand up to the irresponsible Legislature in Topeka, so that we can right this wrong. There is a solution, I promise you. One person, however, cannot do it alone. We must stand up for the children of Lawrence, plain and simple.

BigPrune 7 years, 3 months ago

Whatever happened to the demographic projections when we got scammed for a $56 Million bond just a few short years ago? Was it because the company doing the assessments on our schools also got paid when they got the remodel or rebuild job as well as some of the architectural fees? It's never enough money is it? Of course projections of grade school aged kids must not have been taken into account or we wouldn't be revisiting this b.s. yet again.

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