The Lawrence school district now has 26 volunteers to help guide plans to shrink its number of elementary schools.
Superintendent Rick Doll announced his appointments Wednesday to the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, a collection of volunteers tasked with devising a plan to turn a list of six schools to as few as three or four within the next two to three years.
Members of the working group are recommending how — not if — consolidation should occur.
Members of the Lawrence school board agreed to form the working group after accepting the advice of another volunteer group, the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, to close Wakarusa Valley School and then consider these schools for consolidation: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
The members of the working group come from each of the school communities, plus representatives from Woodlawn School, which is not being considered for consolidation but whose interests board members determined should be represented during discussions. Each school’s task force recommended seven people, from whom Doll could choose three; Doll then chose an “at-large” member from each school community.
A working group chairperson is awaiting confirmation, Doll said.
Members of the working group (including teachers as ex-officio members, who will advise the working group but not vote), listed by school:
• Cordley: Kelly Jones, Mark Kalusha and Sally Kelsey; Chuck Epp, at large; Lois Orth-Lopes, ex-officio.
• Hillcrest: Dennis Hill, Leslie Newman and Edith Paredes; Donna Osness, at large; Leah Weseman, ex officio.
• Kennedy: Dawn Shew, Tim Laurent and Stella Murphy; Amy Scrivner, at-large; Paula Meyers and Jill Anderson, sharing responsibilities as ex-officio.
• New York: Josh Davis, Mike Myers and Natasha Naramore; Chris Lempa, at large; Melissa Turpin, ex officio.
• Pinckney: Karla Hughes, David Unekis and Stacey White; Andrea Albright, at large; Alison Nye, ex officio.
• Sunset Hill: Don Barnett, Kissan Joseph and Daisy Wakefield; Milton Scott, at large; Paulette Breithaupt, ex officio.
• Woodlawn: Megan Richardson; Michelle Iwig-Harmon, at large; Jeny Bellavia and Barbara Gossett, sharing responsibilities as ex officio.
“I appreciate that these community members are willing to volunteer the time and effort necessary to thoughtfully study the various issues, values and opinions involved, and to build consensus toward accomplishing the group’s charge,” Doll said. “The board made it clear that the purpose of the working group is not to debate whether consolidations should occur, rather to discuss how consolidations might best occur to meet the needs of students and the community.”
Doll said the group would have an organizational meeting later this month, then get to work forming its recommendations during meetings to be conducted from August through January. Recommendations are due to the board in February.
The report will be going to a board with four new members, including at least one, Rick Ingram, who has criticized moving ahead with forming the working group before the four new members — elected in April — have a chance to take office in July. One of the four is Shannon Kimball, who served on the task force whose recommendations led to formation of the working group; the other two incoming board members are Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore.
Current board members agreed to form the working group after grappling with a series of budgetary challenges, including several years of budget cuts as the state continues to decrease its amount of state aid to districts. The board has agreed to cut $3 million for the coming year, after having cut $4.6 million for this past year and another several million before that.
The elementary task force concluded that the district could operate more efficiently with fewer elementary schools. Closing Wakarusa Valley was the first step; consolidation, the task force recommended, should be next, accompanied by a proposed bond issue that would be used to finance upgrades and expansions for the elementary schools that would remain.
“The board and administration understand that neighborhoods deeply value their schools,” Doll said. “We wouldn’t want it any other way. This working group has an opportunity to help redefine ‘community schools’ and to set a course for much needed re-investment in central and east Lawrence.
“The board’s goal is to direct resources in such a way as to maximize student learning. In light of decreasing school budgets, operational cost-savings from consolidations and ongoing economies of scale will enable the district to improve instruction for all students.”