Archive for Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Prospect of Wakarusa Valley School closure upsets parents

Cathy Wales built her home a mile from Wakarusa Valley School over 25 years ago. Wales has two grown children who went to the school and a daughter currently in first grade. In this video, Wales reacts to the news that the Lawrence Elementary School Task Force has recommended that the district close the school.

February 23, 2011


Cathy Wales picks up her daughter, Kylee Wales, 7, a first-grader at Wakarusa Valley School Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. Wales built her home a mile from the school more than 25 years ago.

Cathy Wales picks up her daughter, Kylee Wales, 7, a first-grader at Wakarusa Valley School Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. Wales built her home a mile from the school more than 25 years ago.

The recommendation to close Wakarusa Valley School was formed during the past eight months, as two dozen members of the Lawrence school district community discussed values, gathered data, compiled numbers, toured buildings, studied budgets and reviewed research to determine what they considered “best for kids” within painful budget restraints.

Could’ve fooled Mary Anne Blackwood.

“This is a wonderful school,” said Blackwood, picking up her two grandkids Tuesday afternoon at Wakarusa Valley, 1104 E. 1000 Road. “They won’t do as well next year. They won’t do as well when they get moved into town and get crowded into those schools.”

And as for the nearly $500,000 the district would expect to save next year by closing the school: “I don’t think we’ll get our money’s worth out of this trade,” she said.

Such sentiments weren’t all that unusual Tuesday, a day after members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force identified a single school that should be closed in the district during the next five years: Wakarusa Valley, which has about 165 students.

Task force members did name six schools to be considered for future consolidation — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — but that shift would come within three to five years, and only if the district passed a bond issue, and only after parents and teachers and administrators and others had been given a chance to huddle and discuss and determine what might work best for the kids, the neighborhoods, the institutions involved.

Wakarusa parents, meanwhile, will watch their school be recommended formally for closure Monday night, when board members receive the task force recommendation. Then they’ll await the formal decision, expected in March or April. At any point, they can check in with respective principals at the schools the kids would be transferring to:

• Students living in rural Lawrence would go to Broken Arrow.

• Students living in Easy Living Mobile Home Park, behind SuperTarget, would go to Sunflower.

• Some students now attending Broken Arrow — and living along the east side of Kasold, between Clinton Parkway and 31st Street — would attend Schwegler.

“I’m in shock,” said Cathy Wales, mother of 7-year-old Kylee. “I built a mile south of here for this school. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I don’t like open classrooms (like those at Broken Arrow). I don’t think she’s going to do that well out there. I’m still totally in shock.”

Rick Doll, district superintendent, said he would expect the school to be “mothballed” and kept within the district so that it could be opened at some point in the future, if necessary. The district owns the building and land.


Les Blevins 6 years, 11 months ago

Speaking about the closing of Wakarusa Valley School; Cathy Wales says; "It's not gonna go down without a fight" and I like her spirit. Oppression of one segment of society against another should not go down without a fight, and in any sort of fight people need to resort to whatever means they can find to fight with. Well I happen to have some ideas on that. So I hope to show Cathy and her neighbors and all the people of Douglas County a way to save Wakarusa Valley from closure. I'm ready to join with Cathy and her neighbors in this issue and lets see who will win, the people or those on the school closure side.

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 11 months ago

Doesn't Ms. Wales have a brother named Josey? If she follows Josey's advice, Wakarusa kids may have a chance, after all: "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is."

QuinnSutore 6 years, 11 months ago

There's something comically sad about one man having an internet conversation by himself.

For four hours.

ktbob1954 6 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Blevins, I would like to thank you for wanting to help those whose children attend Wakarusa school. My children (grown and married now) both attended Lawrence schools. I am now raising my grandaughter and we put her in the Baldwin school district. She started at Marion Springs in a ONE hallway gradeschool where they all ate lunch together at a table without "trays" and served food "home style" like Sunday buffet. She is now getting ready to enter Baldwin High School. She has maintained a straight A gpa. My point is, her background from a COUNTRY school environment did more for her than any CITY influence when she attended Broken Arrow, where she was lost among the massive numbers. The difference between these two school districts is astounding. So, I encourage the Wakarusa "family" of families to not go down without a fight. Your child's education is worth fighting for, to the bitter end. QuinnSutore: shame on you for making light of what should be a very serious matter, to us all. Our kids are OUR future. The IQ of US children is far lower than it should be..... I find this to be abominable.

kjh 6 years, 11 months ago

ktbob1954 - Thanks for weighing in with support. Often it feels like Wakarusa families are the "outliers" and no one else understands what we are up against as a "country" school. My plan previously was not to send my kids to Lawrence schools, but rather to send them to a smaller, neighboring community for the very reasons you describe. We were so pleasantly surprised by Wakarusa Valley and its unique qualities, and now that seems to be the very thing that makes us "undesirable" to others in Lawrence. We will indeed fight til the end to save this school, and thank you again for speaking up!

Eddie Muñoz 6 years, 11 months ago

I can't help but notice that the majority of these schools are located on the east side of town.

Alfred_W 6 years, 11 months ago

Uh oh, wait til the school board finds out you've discovered their sinister program of kidnapping families with school-age children and forcibly relocating them west of Iowa Street just so they can drive down the numbers of kids attending east side elementary schools and thereby justify closing them in order to satisfy their pro-west bias...

average 6 years, 11 months ago

Not that the drive wouldn't be fairly inconvenient, but am I right in guessing that Marion Springs (Baldwin district) would be pretty thrilled to have higher attendance if any of the W.V. parents want to arrange carpooling, etc?

mcku 6 years, 11 months ago

FYI - The Baldwin school district is closing its two rural schools...Marion Springs and Vinland.

wmathews 6 years, 11 months ago

Hi mcku, We reported on this on Dec. 14:

Whitney Mathews Assistant Community Editor for Online

kjh 6 years, 11 months ago

too bad, because we would seriously consider this as an option after what we've endured with the Lawrence school district the past two years.

AnglNSpurs 6 years, 11 months ago

My siblings, cousins, and I all attended Wakarausa Valley. I started when it was just one building, with one gym/cafeteria and six class rooms. When I "graduated" from WV, the new addition of a second gym, classrooms and a library, were complete, yet, my sixth grade class was THE LARGEST in the district with over 35 students to two teachers, and we STILL had to bring in mobile class rooms to accommodate. I, like many families that have attended WV, have many fond memories of 4H meetings, campouts, field days, talent shows, Ms. Flory and Mr. Coleman greeting you every day before school. Even some painful memories of when the school had to close because of an impending field fire threatening the building, or the first day of the 1992 school year where us students witnessed a staple in our early education, pass away in front of our eyes waiting to greet us as we began our school day, like all the days he had before. Wakarausa Valley is more than a school to the folks in rural Lawrence, its history, family and even though it has been many many years since I had attended WV, I still hold it very dear to my heart. When I get to revisit, it amazes me that all my teachers, Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. West, Mrs. Kettle, are all still there, and still remember me! Point being is that WV is more than a school, it really is a family atmosphere, and it is a crying shame to take that away to the 165 students now and those coming into the system. Rural schools provide more than just an education to the youth that attend, it is also a safe haven to those "hicky farm kids," who in city schools are ridiculed for having to go home after school to do chores, or dressing a certain way, at WV they are amongst their own, other students who can truly relate to their life. Rural Lawrence is expanding people, while the numbers haven't grown much recently, it is still expanding, south and west. Wakarausa is the ONLY RURAL SCHOOL left in the school district, it is a dishonor and disservice that this surveying committee and BOD want to close something that means so much to everyone in the area.

kjh 6 years, 11 months ago

Well said!!!! We need MANY more people to stand up for the unique atmosphere that is Wakarusa Valley - before it is too late!!!

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

These are separate issues, all of which were voted on.

Voters approved the library and T funding - but they have also continually voted for school bond increases.

Seems like folks here would like "all of the above".

guesswho 6 years, 11 months ago

Because the Republicans won't raise taxes even though they are at historic lows. Reagan realized his tax cuts in 1981 went too far and he raised taxes several times after that. The state is continually cutting aid and will not raise revenue to pay for schooling. The state does seem to think $8 million subsidy for Wichita to have affordable airfare is more important than a public good such as education.

Kontum1972 6 years, 11 months ago

So ....taxpayers....what happened to this bill of goods on how all this Lottery money was going to be available if we voters approved the lottery for our state....we did vote on it...schools were used as selling point for us to vote it up....the same goes for this casino poop!

show us the money!

Richard Andrade 6 years, 11 months ago

For the last two Mondays, approximately 60 parents and students of Pinckney School gathered at the Task Force meeting place and held signs and sang school songs supporting the non-closure of their school. I walked around the crowd for a bit and was astounded that, from what I could see, there was NO ONE from the other two schools on the chopping block (Cordley and Wakarusa) there to speak out in support of their schools.

Did these efforts have any impact on the Task Force's recommendations? Nobody knows, but they certainly can't hurt. These meetings were well-publicized in advance, so to not show up to make your voice heard when you have the opportunity, and then get outraged after the decision comes down is odd to me.

kjh 6 years, 11 months ago

I was there, as were many other Wakarusa parents. Forgive us for not pulling out the signs, t shirts and songs. Been there, done that. Many Wakarusa Valley families have spent countless hours marching, being interviewed, attending meetings, speaking out, writing letters, and generally fighting with everything we have to keep our school open. We have also invested significant time in improving our science program in order to improve our school, including collaboration with key programs at KU, and with the blessing of the district. This is not our first rodeo. We started with the heartfelt pleas and publicity, and were told that we needed to argue our case with more hard facts. Do not mistake less public displays of support for Wakarusa Valley for a lack of concern or participation. We continue to fight until the very last second to keep our school open. If you would like more information about the details of how we are doing this, let me know, but please don't assume because we aren't in front of the district office with a sign that we are not engaged. Quite the opposite.

Richard Andrade 6 years, 11 months ago

When I was out there, I really wanted to see some strong Cordley and Wakarusa presence as well, because I feel all the schools deserved to be heard from. If you guys were there, even quietly, my mistake and I apologize for thinking otherwise.

kjh 6 years, 11 months ago

I know. And we wanted to be there. I applaud Pinkney for organizing such a public display of support. We have just had to focus our efforts in the areas we felt were going to have the biggest impact on those who had the final vote, so we've taken our fight "inside". I believe this year is the first year Pinkney has been targeted so publicly. We were targeted last year, so we started with the more public efforts, but can only spread ourselves so thin. I appreciate your comments, both original and as a reply, and I agree that we have to engage proactively. Thanks for being involved in the issue.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago


As long as the parents of the soldiers have to pay for the wars.

ralphralph 6 years, 11 months ago

Gosh, I remember when it was proposed that the State take control of school finance, and that was supposed to be better for everyone. I remember asking for somebody to point out ONE thing that the State had taken over and made better, and I'm still waiting for a response.

We have removed decision-making from contact with the people affected, and we act like we are surprised by the outcome?

Carpeting on the football fields, mothballs in the classroom. Way to go, Kansas!

Shardwurm 6 years, 11 months ago

The simple solution is to pay for it themselves. I don't think any taxpayer would oppose a group of people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep the school open.

Otherwise it's time to recognize that our education system was over-inflated to begin with and contraction is the natural result of declining tax revenue.

Blame anyone you care to. Republicans. Democrats. Teacher's Union. Parents. It doesn't matter. We've been sold a bill of goods by the education industry for decades and now we're seeing the result of that.

It's not that we can't live within our's that we don't want to.

concernedeudoravoter 6 years, 11 months ago

To all patrons of the Lawrence School district, or any school district in the state of Kansas, I will ask a simple question. Who did you vote for last November? In our state's era of cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes, anyone who voted for our current Governor, or members of his party for state Representatives or Senators, you are getting what you voted for. Massive cuts to school districts budgets are what you voted for. Unfortunately, closing under utilized buildings is a reality of those cuts. We had to close/mothball two buildings in Eudora last year. No one in the district wanted to, but it was done. Bigger cuts are sure to come this year. Ask yourself - who did you vote for?

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Actually, Brownback made a campaign promise to protect education funding.

I hope anybody who believed him is very upset, letting him know that, and will vote for somebody else next time.

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 11 months ago

"Rick Doll, district superintendent, said he would expect the school to be 'mothballed' and kept within the district so that it could be opened at some point in the future, if necessary." Interesting. However, Doll has no vote. Maybe Doll is telling the public what he actually knew & believed when he hand-selected the taskforce members!! Equity????

The "nearly $500,000 the district would expect to save next year by closing the school" is based upon a full compliment of staff, which Waky hasn't had this past year. Actual savings are actually closer to $350,000.

Honey, we're facing bankruptcy! We have to raise $3M or they'll take everything we have! We can sell the nearly $2M property we own (Cordley) that will cost about $1M to make ADA compliant so our handicapped child can navigate around the place, and another $1M for a new heating/AC system to it's actually pleasant to be in year around, and another who knows what to remediate the mold in the basement. What about that? It'd be over $3M in actual savings! Or, we can sell the $1M property we own (Pinckney) that has rooms too small to grow. What about that? Or, we can just unload the one property with no apparent problems in the county (Wakarusa), and raise $350,000. What about that? If we do that, maybe the creditors will go away and just forget about the remaining $2.5M. What do you think, Honey?

Hopefully, the school board will use a little wisdom, ignore the SONS rhetoric, and make a decision that actually makes some sense!!

Currant 6 years, 11 months ago

With the way you've just described Cordley, it seems unlikely that buyers would be lining up to make that $2M purchase.

LeCroix 6 years, 11 months ago

Cordley's value as a property the district could easily liquidate lies more in its location, than in the actual building. Many a developer would love to have that land to put up apartments or other similar multi-family dwellings.

honestone 6 years, 11 months ago

didn't we just pump a lot of money into Cordley a year or two ago for HVAC??? Didn't we just spend millions of capital money on football fields???

What's wrong with this picture???

LeCroix 6 years, 11 months ago

Have you ever been in Pinckney? Are you sure the school has no options for expansion? Are you aware the so called way too small rooms are only some 20 square feet off what the task force deemed as the target size?

Did you know that several other schools including Woodlawn had higher percentages of classrooms under 720 square feet?

Did you know that Woodlawn also has ADA issues?

How familiar are you with the data?

Are you sure that there are absolutely no options other than school closings to balance the budget?

CL Maurer 6 years, 11 months ago

Unless the current Doulgas County zoning code is changed there will be no growth in your area. That means no new houses or young families in the area. That is what has closed the rural school. Why do you think Baldwin rural school closed. Look at the existing subdivison regulation and try to build a new house in the county. Good Luck!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 11 months ago

Kontum1972 (anonymous) says… So ....taxpayers....what happened to this bill of goods on how all this Lottery money was going to be available if we voters approved the lottery for our state....we did vote on it...schools were used as selling point for us to vote it up....the same goes for this casino poop! === I don't think lottery money was ever 'promised' to anyone. Some goes, I believe, to EcoDevo, but it's just dumped into the general fund.

difference_of_opinion 6 years, 11 months ago

Why do we need a tax increase to pay for the schools? How about a tuition increase? It's highway robbery how cheap tuition is into a public school.

Wayne Propst 6 years, 11 months ago

How much will property tax receipts drop...due to the closing of WV.....estamates are $400,000 over 5 yrs. The "task force con"was used to close Grant up Mr. Doll if you want the school closed..... own it...kangroo courst are not how grown up....

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 11 months ago

These small schools have to be closed because of the budget situation. No parent wants their child's school closed, but it's gonna happen. Instead of making it a catastrophe for kids to change schools, parents need to make it as positive as possible. Believe me, everyone will survive this!

institches 6 years, 11 months ago

seriously, spare me. obviously you are not affected by this proposal.

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 11 months ago

Not this one, but closures in the past. It has always seemed to me that the adults made the situation much more traumatic for the kids than it needs to be.

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 11 months ago

debengstrom: Please educate yourself before you spout this bile! Langston has over 400 kids. Sunflower has over 400 kids. Neither school was built for that many kids. The rows of desks in classrooms are so close together that an adult cannot move between the rows. Wakarusa is facilities-sound. Wakarusa can take 80+ students immediately, and with little expense can handle another 50-60. Wakarusa is not a small school, it has a small enrollment because USD497 has boundaries that are out-dated. The Beeson/SONS solution does not address this overcrowding. Closing Cordley accomplishes 2/3 to 3/4 of the budget shortfall, saves $3M in immediately needed additional expenditures to make the building "right," and allows the boundary lines to be shifted to fill Wakarusa and relieve Sunflower and Langston!!!!!

LeCroix 6 years, 11 months ago

Cordley would also be an attractive property to buyers on the open market, which would make closing it even more beneficial to the district.

institches 6 years, 11 months ago

There is a reason why our family moved to rural douglas county... it was to get out of town and have our kids go to "Waki Valley". The education is/was superior and the district thought so much of it, it spent plenty of money to have an addition built on it. Some board members do not and cannot get the idea that we county folk count as much as the city folk.. however... we just don't have the numbers obviously that the city does, so who loses each and every time? the county folks do. Some how it appears that the board think pretty little of us. So just to make it clear.. my address says LAWRENCE, I pay taxes, I shop and work in LAWRENCE.. we are NOT a separate entity here in the county. We will survive, sure.. but not as well and our family's name will still appear on the bricks inside the building in support of the bigger family named Wakarusa Valley School.

oldbaldguy 6 years, 11 months ago

deb is right, this is a money issue, everyone will survive, it is not the end of the world. frankly attending the same school k-6 is overrated. look at all the "service brats" who generally excell. i was one, 7 elementary schools, two junior highs and four high schools. i think i did ok.

mellowyellow 6 years, 11 months ago

School closings & consolidations are happening all across the state of Kansas due to restrictions put on school districts by state & federal funding. Hopefully our school board make fiscally sound decisions for the whole district. If they don't, you need to get out there & vote for school board members who will do it right.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

Something to think about:

USD 497 budgets $4-4.5 million to bus students. The district is charged at a daily rate depending on how many students use the transportation.

Parents would you be willing to find other means to get your students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Think car pooling,family members ,walking and biking.

USD 497 says it needs $3 million. Can WE come up with $3 million?

Stephen Roberts 6 years, 11 months ago

Merrill- the answer to your question in no............ Kansas needs to increase the taxes on ALL lawn mowing businesses. These people spend too little time working and they are polluting our environment. Hey Merrill time to pay up...,.. It would be about time.

Maybe the district really needs to get rid of small schools!!! So the parents are upset... Did any of these parents talk to other parents who schools have been closed???? Probally not but they are upset.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 11 months ago

"Can WE come up with $3 million?" Ask the svombie for a donation.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 11 months ago

Whether Wakarusa Valley closes or not is a board decision, based on financial stresses deliberately being applied to the K-12 school system. The next 2-4 years may be very difficult and Lawrence won't escape the debate. Clearly, Muscular Sam's agenda is to squeeze the general fund budget as much as possible. How all this plays out, and whether people really want the 'smaller' government they voted for will be interesting. 90% or so of the general fund is education and services. In addition to school closings and teacher layoffs, this movement, if successful, will close court houses, reduce police and fire department staffs, make rural living even more challenging when the ambulance is, perhaps, 2 counties away, when grannie comes home from the rest home on a gurney, etc. Americans generally dislike 'gummint' when they think someone else is getting a reward and love it when the money is serving their individual needs. Having a rational, collective discussion about what we want and how to pay for it will be a challenge. If the discussion doesn't take place, the ideologues will continue their efforts to diminish all levels of service. Welcome to Kochkansas, where the billionaires and the unicorn play.

AnglNSpurs 6 years, 11 months ago

According to a board member "The community in the SW rural part of Douglas County, is not considered part of Lawrence. Yes, their addresses are that of Lawrence, but "they" are their own community out there. Not only that, but according to his calculations, only 29 families live out there they contribute to Wakarusa Valley, the rest are bused from the trailer parks and the south edge of Lawrence. Thus those "29" will be bussed longer than an hour, the rest of the 165 student population and will not feel any effect. Apparently, again, according to him, EVERYONE that lives in the county moves out there knowing that they have to travel somewhere so this is no different, especially since everyone wants to move into Lawrence. He also knows that this will show now impact in property values and real-estate.

He did give some positive objectives, that #1, this isn’t about the money, there are plenty more factors that were decided with this. #2 He hopes the school can be reopened someday or used for other community purposes. We should all be seeing the positives of this.

Okay, so you are telling me WV will be reopened. Where is the district going to find the funds to hire the new teachers, equip the new classrooms, and bus the students? Guaranteed- it will be inflated from the $350,000 that you are projected to save. You say it is not about the money, then as elected officials of the the community, stewards of the educational dollars, you, Mr. Doll and BOD members, owe us, those that will largely be impacted, clear cut reasons why it is closing, without mentioning budgets. When you are able to do that maybe I, and the rest of the families, (who by the way, along with WV staff were blindsided by this this WHEN THEY OPENED TUESDAYS PAPER!!) will be able to see the positives of this.

Furthermore, after hearing this BOD members line of thinking that those individuals that live in the county are "not part of Lawrence, and are their own community." I am enraged and appalled. It is comments like this that give Lawrence the "Elitists Liberal" title throughout the state. What is appalling about this is that the man that uttered these words, damns those that refer to Lawrence as Liberal and Elitist. So I ask, what shall we call you Mr. BOD Member, Pot or Kettle?

GMom05 6 years, 11 months ago

"29 families?" I think I would doubt just about every number that comes out of administration and certain board member's mouths. Yes, there are children bussed in, 52 of them K-5, that is far from the majority. The majority of the population is from outside the city limits. Since we're talking a budget crisis here, then I would hope they are looking at the dollars saved in closing Wakarusa. If not, then what possible reason could they have for closing a high achieving, non-repair needing, solid community school like Wakarusa? It had better be because they are saving the very most dollars they can. What? Closing Wakarusa saves them the least out of all the scenarios? They please explain to me who we torked off. You know the trade off for saving the least money by closing the smallest school is you have to make that money up somewhere. Here's where we all pay. They have raise the teacher student ratio. So, instead of saving more money by closing Pinckney or Cordley we will all pay for it through more kids in each classroom.

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