Members of a new community group will be getting a clear sense of direction this week as they start work on recommendations for how to shrink the roster of elementary schools in the Lawrence school district.
Whether their assigned tasks result in new directions in the coming months remains to be seen.
Members of the volunteer group — formal name: Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group — will assemble for an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
Members will meet and start building the mutual trust they’ll need to compile a list of recommendations.
“I don’t want there to be any misconceptions about what the working group is supposed to do,” said Rick Doll, district superintendent, who appointed the group’s 26 members and who will lead the first meeting. “It’s fairly simple. The board has charged them with: How do you consolidate the six east and central Lawrence schools into three or four schools?
“It’s not whether. They’re very clear about that. It’s how do we consolidate.”
Come July 11, four new members will join the Lawrence school board, replacing four members who helped form the working group and including the two leaders of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force whose work led to creation of the working group.
Of the four incoming members, at least two have questioned the responsibility given to the group, including Rick Ingram, who received the most votes in the April board election.
Randy Masten, who finished third, said Monday that while the working group “is a good thing,” its stated charge lacks the flexibility necessary for the community to come up with the best plan for financially challenged schools.
The working group could identify other viable options to consolidation — such as identifying other sources of funding — to bolster district operations.
“There are other variables in the equation,” Masten said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that we’re going to close any set number of schools. We’re looking for information and input.”
Shannon Kimball, who finished second in the April election, said that she was committed to staying the course with the new working group. She had served as a member of the elementary task force, the one that recommended closing Wakarusa Valley School and forming the working group, two moves approved by the current board.
The task force recommended that Hillcrest, Pinckney and Sunset Hill schools be consolidated in central Lawrence, and that Cordley, Kennedy and New York schools be considered in eastern Lawrence. The board approved the list.
Doll chose the group’s members from among those school communities — plus two from Woodlawn School, at the board’s direction.
Permitting options other than consolidation would lead to the process “spinning its wheels,” Kimball said, when the task force already had spent nine months concluding that consolidation was the best way to provide the best education for students within financial constraints.
“We’ve already had that discussion,” Kimball said.
Bob Byers, who has two years remaining on his board term, fully expects some incoming board members to bring up concerns about the task force process, and that’s fine with him. But he plans to push for a vote, so that the board can get on with other issues without having to discuss it at every subsequent board meeting.
The state will continue cutting financing for schools, he said, so there’s no sense holding out hope for additional revenue to come in.
“We don’t have a choice,” Byers said. “The choice is: We continue looking at what we need to do to streamline, or we streamline. We either close schools or layoff teachers. It’s a simple thing.”