The task force appointed last spring to study elementary school facilities in Lawrence has done an admirable job of examining a situation that has spurred considerable discord in the community through the years.
On Monday, the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force will formally present its recommendations to the Lawrence school board. Among those recommendations is that the district close Wakarusa Valley School next year and consider the consolidation of up to six central city elementary schools within the next three to five years.
A recommendation to close one or more schools is bound to stir a certain amount of opposition in any community. People become attached not only to the teachers and other families in their schools but to the history and tradition of the school buildings themselves. Although we are an extremely mobile society, they often see the schools as a physical center for their neighborhoods. They are justifiably concerned about the effect schools have on residential property values.
One of the ideas that came out of early discussions by the task force was that there is more than one way for schools to build a sense of community. Physical proximity may be one measure of “community,” but people and students also form communities based on their interests, activities and needs.
Many students who currently attend Wakarusa Valley School don’t live close to the rural school, but they nonetheless have become part of that school’s “community.” If the school board decides to concur with the task force’s recommendation to close that school, those families and students all will be asked to join another such community.
It’s a change, but it doesn’t have to be a negative change. The possibility of a combined New York/Kennedy school and a combined Sunset Hill/Hillcrest school drew considerable support among task force members, who said Pinckney and Cordley schools also should be considered in consolidation talks.
The task force was about “facilities,” but it also was about “vision,” and one of its visions was to try to solicit both the funding and the public input to make any future consolidations a positive — or at least an acceptable — change for those associated with those schools. A bond issue to expand current buildings or build new schools to accommodate consolidation efforts might be a hard sell in the current economy, but broad community participation in the planning might produce the necessary buy-in.
There is little doubt that everyone who has served on the elementary school task force has a new appreciation for the difficult financial and educational issues that face teachers, administrators and school board members every day. The task force members deserve the community’s thanks for taking on a difficult task and presenting some recommendations that should help move the district in a positive direction in the years to come.