Archive for Monday, January 31, 2011

Lawrence task force envisions closing and consolidating schools

January 31, 2011


One or two elementary schools would close next year, and another four would be consolidated into two new or expanded schools by 2016, under the latest vision from members of a task force studying the future of Lawrence’s elementary schools.

Nineteen members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force spent more than three hours Monday night condensing their consensus on potential recommendations for closing, renovating, expanding and building elementary schools.

They settled on two scenarios to study further before making recommendations to the Lawrence school board by the end of February:

  • Close either one or two of three schools next year: Cordley, Pinckney or Wakarusa Valley.
  • Within three to five years, consolidate New York and Kennedy into a single school, either at one of the school sites or at a different one, such as land that is home to the former East Heights School, and consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools, likely into a new or expanded building at one of the two existing sites.

All of the possibilities would mean changes to enrollments, boundaries and other matters, and that’s why district officials will be crunching numbers up until the task force’s next meeting: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

“It’s going to be painful,” said Brad Finkeldei, a task force member who helped craft the scenarios. “The question is, will it be too painful?”

Much of the Monday’s discussions focused on the consolidation possibilities, as members emphasized the importance of investing in schools in eastern Lawrence while acknowledging educational, social and political realities.

“Significant reinvestment on the east side needs to be part of that plan,” said Erika Dvorske, a member of the task force.

Rich Minder, school board president and co-chairman of the task force, said he could foresee a new school being built at the East Heights site, with New York then converted into a new “dual language” school that would provide an option for expanding English as a Second Language education.

Such consolidation plans — including the one for Hillcrest and Sunset Hill — would require the district borrowing money through community passage of a bond issue, one that likely would include upgrades for elementary schools throughout the district.

“That requires a big commitment on the part of the whole community,” Minder said, “and I think we’re up for it.”

The task force’s goal remains to align elementary schools with the community’s vision for education, and all within financial realities. With that in mind, task force members agreed to seek more information about the potential for closing either one or two schools next year.

They agreed to seek information regarding expected cost savings, enrollment shifts and other issues regarding three candidates for closure:

  • Cordley, 1837 Vt., which a task force report describes as having “significant ADA access challenges” and the potential for disruptive renovations, depending on how work could be staged.
  • Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St., has a relatively large number of small classrooms and is located on the smallest site in the district, both “creating special challenges to increasing enrollment and expanding classroom square footage,” according to the report.
  • Wakarusa Valley, 1104 E. 1100 Road, just southeast of Clinton Lake, has the fewest students in the district — district officials forecast that the school would have 155 students for next year, with capacity for another 164 more. Displaced students could face increased transportation time to other schools, according to the report.


puckstah 7 years, 2 months ago

"The task force’s goal remains to align elementary schools with the community’s vision for education, and all within financial realities."

What is the community's vision for education? It seems the task force is only looking at facilities issues and school closure. What about full-day kindergarten for all elementary schools? What about magnet programs? What about a dual-language program that Minder mentions? Where is the plan for what happens in the schools? It seems ridiculous to determine what happens with buildings when there isn't a long-range plan for what's happening IN them.

EarthaKitt 7 years, 2 months ago

“That requires a big commitment on the part of the whole community,” Minder said, “and I think we’re up for it.”

Excuse me, but I think your proposal requires a big committment on the part of East Lawrence, which contains the highest percentage of at-risk students. If we're at all interested in taking care of ALL of our kids, why do you want to make it vastly more difficult for those students to get to and from school? Maybe the numbers can be crunched and spun in such a way that they seem fiscally responsible, but what will the cost be to students on the east side of town?

And what's this talk of closing and consolidating, demolishing and rebuilding? Why can't we invest in the facilities we already have -- many of which (Central, Pinckney and Cordley) have already seen improvements in the past few years that would be for naught if those facilities are closed?

Finally, If the downtown area is one of Lawrence's most precious assets, why would you want to drive families from the surrounding neighborhoods. Fewer neighborhoos schools mean fewer children. Fewer children means fewer families, which translates into more KU students, more rentals and less care for the area. That's not a good way to support the economic and cultural heart of town.

C'mon USD 497. See past this committee's numbers and look at the bigger picture.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years, 2 months ago

No intelligent conversation can occur regarding school closures, until the district either cures the mold or closes Kennedy. What's the deal?

deec 7 years, 2 months ago

Close and sell the admin bldg. Move the offices to East Heights. Isn't Centennial used for storage? Sell the land to Doug to put up some more tacky student apts. There's a hunk of money for you right there.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years, 2 months ago

Ignorance: "Wakarusa Valley . . . . district officials forecast that the school would have 155 students for next year, with capacity for another 164 more." Why would anyone with any sense close a school in perfectly good shape that has "capacity for another 164 more"?? Why push a bond issue to build a new school when you can simply shift boundaries and move 164 to Wakarusa? Isn't this the only grade school in the district with "green" anything? LJW reported they installed a solar water heater. Is everyone over there nuts???

Kat Christian 7 years, 2 months ago

Conslidate Kennedy and New York student? Where are you going to put them? Kennedy is already overcrowded. I did not know Kennedy had a mold problem - that stands to reason why so many kids are out sick a one time. My granddaugther and her sister are always getting sick and the rest of their class. My grandson has one more year to go in Cordley and I want him to finish there before going to Middle school. I love Cordley. Smaller classrooms are better. Its always about $$ and not really about the kid's education. IInfuriating is the best word to describe this.

iowamom 7 years, 2 months ago

Sure glad I didn't move to Lawrence last year, as was the plan. Would have been such a waste of my time since the school district was #1 reason I chose Lawrence. We used to have eight elementary schools in this college town, now down to five. Now there is actually a scenario on the table for cutting that to four. If you don't stop this now they will "downsize" you to six or seven elementary schools. They moved sixth grade from elem to middle here also. That was a bad idea since the middle school is out on the fringe of town so virtually all sixth graders must be bused. If you believe in neighborhood schools you had better get involved in this and make sure your voice is heard before it's too late. Also spread the word. People have busy lives and need to be hit over the head to get involved. Good Luck. If Lawrence can manage to find a way to hang onto neighborhoods schools we will be headed south in a few years.

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