The 26 members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group already have been told that their task isn’t to debate whether consolidations should take place but rather to consider how schools in the central part of the city can be consolidated in the best possible way. There are sure to be many opinions about how consolidation should occur, and it would be easy for the working group to become mired in a divisive debate.
The makeup of the group seems to encourage some division. Each of the six schools being considered for consolidation — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset — has three representatives, chosen from among names suggested by the school site councils, along with one at-large member and one or two teachers serving as nonvoting ex-officio members. The working group also includes two representatives from Woodlawn School, which isn’t part of the consolidation plan but may be affected by it.
All of these people represent a specific constituency: the students, parents and teachers at their individual schools. The district’s outline for the working group also calls for the group to be immediately divided into two committees: one that will focus on Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools and one that will focus on Cordley, Kennedy and New York. Pinckney and Woodlawn representatives will be split between the two.
A chairman for the working group has not yet been appointed, but that person will play a key role in how well the group functions.
The end result for the working group, according to the district outline, is to “seek to reach agreement through consensus,” but all of the divisions seem to make that goal elusive. There would be a natural tendency for members to defend their own schools and perhaps form various alliances within the group to help benefit their own interests. They will have to be prepared to defend to their constituencies whatever plan the group supports.
We have no reason to believe that the people appointed to this working group want anything other than the best educational experience for the elementary students in their areas. The challenge, however, will be to broaden their views to include what is best for students in all the central city schools, as well as the financial interests of the district as a whole.
As we said, it’s a daunting task. We wish the working group well as they prepare to take it on.