Archive for Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wakarusa Valley School closure, consolidation options to be taken up at meeting Monday

March 26, 2011


Public hearing

Lawrence school board will conduct a formal public hearing Monday night regarding a proposal to close Wakarusa Valley School, 1104 E. 1000 Road, just southeast of Clinton Lake.

The hearing is set to begin at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Anyone wishing to speak will be required to sign in. Each speaker will be limited to three minutes.

Once the formal hearing is complete, board members will open their regular business meeting. On the agenda is a discussion about recommendations of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, including the prospect of closing Wakarusa Valley.

A vote is expected, although not required.

As proposed, this would be the last school year Wakarusa Valley would be open.

Voters already are deciding who will serve as the Lawrence school board’s next majority, but incumbent board members will be the ones setting a course for shrinking the number of elementary schools in Lawrence during the next five years.

The discussion promises to reach two crucial points Monday night, as board members meet at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive, to:

• Conduct a formal public hearing and then determine whether to close Wakarusa Valley School at the end of this academic year.

• Discuss how or whether to proceed with plans to consolidate six other elementary schools into either three or four during the next three to five years.

Such major decisions will come during the last meeting the board conducts before voters decide, on April 5, who will occupy four of the board’s seven seats come July 1.

But no matter what happens in the election, current board members and administrators say they’re ready to make rulings on plans that have been in the works for months and only now have reached the board’s decision-making agenda.

“It’s important that the present board set the course,” said Rick Doll, district superintendent. “If the new board wants to change that course, they certainly have that option. But we don’t have time to wait.”

Officials have been warning for months that the district likely would face a $3 million cut heading into next year’s budget, one that has yet to be formed. That formed much of the backdrop for work of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, which met for eight months before recommending the closure and consolidation options now making their way to the board.

‘A legitimate compromise’

Scott Morgan, a board member who will leave office at the end of June, said he would have preferred to close three elementary schools for the coming year to help the district accommodate ongoing budget cuts from the state.

But the task force — on which Morgan served as co-chairman — came to a consensus that calls for closing Wakarusa Valley and consolidating others in connection with an anticipated bond issue that would address renovations, expansions and even new construction for elementary schools.

“For the health of the community and the general sanity of everybody, it probably makes the most sense to move forward with the task force recommendations,” he said. “It’s a legitimate compromise, one made with a lot of labor, and we should respect it.

“If we walk away from it, I don’t know what group of people would ever volunteer for anything ever again.”

Morgan’s vision: Close Wakarusa Valley, then talk next month about how to involve the public in planning for how — not whether — to consolidate schools. He favors making the plans fairly concrete:

• Consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools at a new school, which would be built on the site of Sunset Hill.

• Consolidate schools in eastern Lawrence, determining which ones — New York and Kennedy? Cordley and Kennedy? Build a new school at the site of the former East Heights School? — after having discussions with people involved with the schools and their surrounding neighborhoods.

Such a process should work, Morgan said, because there’s really no other option.

“We need to lay out the vision for consolidation, and then set up the community input process to implement that framework,” he said. “We’re not just saying: ‘You guys figure it out; what do you want to do?’ We say, ‘This is what we want to do, and you figure out the best way to make it work.’

“We’ll set that framework in place, and it would have to be reversed by a future board. And the reason that won’t happen is the budget situation will remain so odious, they will be as desperate for revenue as we are, and they will come to the same realization that every board — and I mean every board — has reached for the past 25 years: The one thing we have too much of is elementary buildings. That will force their hands.”

Bottom line: “Reality is what will make this thing happen.”

No time to wait

All nine candidates for the four seats on the board generally have indicated their appreciation for the task force process, and emphasized the importance of involving the public in any plans to consolidate schools.

But Bob Byers, a board member with two years remaining on his term, said that waiting up to five years for consolidation to become reality would be the wrong way to go.

The district needs to close at least two schools for next year, he said. He sees Cordley as the most logical candidate, given its physical condition and lack of ADA compliance.

“If we’re really going to close a school, let’s not keep a school open that we’re going to have to turn around and spend $3 million to repair,” he said.

The task force essentially determined that the district should have 12 elementary schools instead of the current 15, he said. That’s based on enrollments and best practices and building sizes and all sorts of data and observations and calculations.

The budget situation is the board’s responsibility, Byers said, and after cutting $8 million during the past two years and looking ahead to another $3 million next year and likely facing more in the years ahead — well, he figures, there’s no sense waiting.

“I agree with the task force 100 percent: Our long-term goal should be to consolidate,” Byers said. “The problem is I don’t necessarily see how, in today’s budget climate, that we have time to do that.”

Superintendent Doll has indicated that the district could use contingency funds to help cover budget cuts in the next two to three years but has cautioned that such funds wouldn’t last long without the board making decisions about other cost savings. Closing Wakarusa Valley, for example, would be expected to save the district nearly $500,000 annually.

Vanessa Sanburn, another board member with two years remaining on her term, likes that idea. She favors following the task force plans for closing Wakarusa Valley and consolidating other schools.

“This plan is a consensus, a compromise, that honors our community’s values,” Sanburn said. “I think, going forward, that’s going to be important.”


LogicMan 7 years, 2 months ago

"but incumbent board members will be the ones setting a course for shrinking the number of elementary schools in Lawrence during the next five years."

Couldn't a new board change or reverse any decisions of an old board? Not that such is needed, but it is a fundamental concept of democracy.

LadyJ 7 years, 2 months ago

Both Cordley and Centennial were up for closure at the same time. Why was Cordley picked over Cenntenial to stay open if it wasn't ADA compliant? Can Cordley be closed and Centennial reopened? Did the school board leave enough land for a playgound after building a tennis court? Hey, the students could play tennis at recess. Wasn't Loveland on the board that closed Centennial?

cato_the_elder 7 years, 2 months ago

Closing Wakarusa School does no honor whatsoever to anyone's "community values." If this move is confirmed, since the mid-'90s USD 497 will have closed four rural schools that each had rich histories and generations of fine families supporting them.

The reason this has occurred is that qualified candidates from rural areas haven't run for the USD 497 school board. It's been a harsh lesson, but a point that must be made. Costly pet projects of certain USD 497 board members have overridden the wishes of USD 497 patrons, including those living in rural areas, time and time again. There are many qualified residents in the rural areas of USD 497 who would make outstanding school board members. If even two of them could run for the board and serve, the common sense they would bring to the board could make a world of difference.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 2 months ago

Not sure what you mean by that, but thanks for your later post at 10:14 p.m.

As far as USD 497 school closings are concerned, the whole exercise has been Kafkaesque for two decades.

beaujackson 7 years, 2 months ago

Mary Loveland and Scott Morgan have cost 497 taxpayers dearly.

But it was "All for the Kids". Whose kids?

conservative 7 years, 2 months ago

The whirl you are delusional. The schools in the "rich" parts of town are mostly the ones that have 3 or 4 classes per grade level and cover a much larger area than the other schools. They are also the ones that cost much less to operate than the 1 or 2 classrooms per grade level schools.

independent_rebel 7 years, 2 months ago

No, the important thing is that they picked a school that would be more "pc" to close than an east-side school. This board and most of the "Save our schools" liberals are fine with closing yet another (and the last) rural school. Hell, they are just a bunch of farm kids, right, used to riding on tractors and wrastlin' with hogs. They don't even know who Justin Bieber or Jaden Smith are! They don't wear the cool "street cred" clothes like the east side kids do. The kids' test scores are great, their parents actually care about their kids performance in schoo,l and they parents don't depend on the schools to raise their kids and feed them for free or reduced prices.

I don't have a kid that goes to Wakarusa (I've had nieces and a nephew--not farm kids either), but I'd have been proud to have sent a kid there. Good values, real involvement from almost all the parents, kids with a good work ethic who grow up without an entitlement attitude.

Shame on Scott Morgan, the rest of the board who support this, and those who fought so hard to save the east-side schools but have, not surprisingly, been awfully quiet on this issue.

kugrad 7 years, 2 months ago

independent_rebel, your post reveals more about your own assumptions and prejudices than those of people who have been active in Save Our Schools. First of all, you need to keep up with the current positions of that group, which from your post I can see you have not. In fact, you aren't even up with their old positions, as they never favored closing Wakarusa. The kids at the east side elementary schools don't wear "street cred" clothes either - in fact they don't dress differently than kids in the other parts of town. If they do, it is probably just a few more affordable clothes. You are just making up a trend that doesn't exist. You label all the SONS people as liberals. First of all, since when is that a bad thing (and don't try to tell me you're not implying that it is, your intent is clear) and second of all you have no way at all of knowing if this is true or not. It appears you feel that someone who lives on the east side and wants to keep their neighborhood school open must be a liberal. Is this still true of someone who lives out west and wants to keep their schools open? Are Wakarusa parents also liberal if they want to keep their school open? Finally, you seem to think there is no entitlement attitude at Wakarusa, but clearly imply that there is such an attitude elsewhere. Again, you have nothing to support what you are saying. All your post accomplishes is shows that you are a person with stereotypic views of the east side parents and children and the culture of both Wakarusa and east side schools. I am not particularly in favor of school closings, but honestly the problem lies in Topeka and not with our school board.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years, 2 months ago

Farm kids, liberals, entitled or otherwise, SONS most definitely threw Wakarusa under the bus this year. Their "Support the Task Force Recommendation" mantra and complete silence on the fact that the recommendation calls for immediate closure of Wakarusa speaks volumes.

irvan moore 7 years, 2 months ago

it's bad policy for the "old" board to make this decision, loveland and morgan have proven over the years that they have an agenda to close schools, not look for efficient use of funds. it's not going to hurt to wait for the new board to make this decision but theyu know it won't happen. this is their parting "gift" to the citizens of lawrence. good riddance.

George_Braziller 7 years, 2 months ago

The school district has known about the ADA accessibility issues at Cordley for well over a decade because I was one of the people who worked on an extensive survey of the building. Since nothing was ever done to address the known problems with accessibility at Cordley, I'm guessing that quiet plans to eventually close it have been in the works for some time.

LadyJ 7 years, 2 months ago

Trying to find a link to the other story in the printed edition of today's paper that says there are plans to use the money saved from closing Wakarusa to fund more all day kindergartens at two schools. I thought we needed that money to keep the district running?

kugrad 7 years, 2 months ago

Closing Cordley because of ADA issues doesn't make sense. The money that the district needs to find by closing schools is in the general fund. The fund that is used to fix facility issues is the capital outlay fund. We have enough money to fix this school - in fact, I'd argue the community around Cordley has seen a long period of neglect of the facilities and could be seen as being owed the improvements (they have paid taxes and bonds for other parts of the city for years too) without being labeled as "entitled." Rushing to close a school will just create chaos and lack of community buy in for any bond issue the district has in the future.

notanota 7 years, 2 months ago

We've rushed to do a lot of school closings and grade rearrangements without really discussing the long-term financial costs.

3LHSfans 7 years, 2 months ago

It's interesting how the numbers can be massaged. Last year, closing Waky would have saved roughly $351,000. This year the district says $400K+ and today Doll quotes $500K. This year there is a half time principal and half time libriarian. Where's the rest of this? It should have been a DECREASE from last year.

LadyJ 7 years, 2 months ago

Found the link to the other story for using the money from closing Wakarusa to add all day kindergarten

IBike100 7 years, 2 months ago

I will not support a bond issue in any way. This should be voted on my the community, the same as the two over-priced stadiums and fields should have been. Lawrence needs to stand up to these decisions which should be made by the c ommunity!

LadyJ 7 years, 2 months ago

Totally agree. Football stadiums and fields should have been voted on. How much is being spent on the fields?

weeslicket 7 years, 2 months ago

  1. Dr. Doll on tv tonight: Closing Wakarusa Valley, for example, would be expected to save the district nearly ::$500,000 annually::
  2. From the article: Superintendent Doll has indicated that the district could use contingency funds to help cover budget cuts in the next two to three years but has cautioned that such funds wouldn’t last long without the board making decisions about other cost savings. Closing Wakarusa Valley, for example, would be expected to save the district nearly ::$500,000 annually::

  3. And from The district could use an anticipated ::$143,322 in savings:: that would be generated by the closure of Wakarusa Valley --

::savings that have not been included in earlier estimates::

-- to cover what would be the additional $132,500 in increased costs for teachers at Broken Arrow and Sunflower, the two schools that would be handling Wakarusa Valley’s displaced students next year.

::::::::::: are we just making stuff up here?

LadyJ 7 years, 2 months ago

"::::::::::: are we just making stuff up here?" Ummm, you're not suppose to notice that.

Clevercowgirl 7 years, 2 months ago

At least the School Board can't close Wakarusa Valley without national attention!

kravist1 7 years, 2 months ago

It's interesting to note that it was Shannon Kimball's task force subcommittee that came to the erroneous conclusion that - "a number of factors other than school size or class size are significantly more important to student success in our elementary schools." So now this task force is exposed nationally on Huffington post as a fraud, and Ms. Kimball right along with it.

spiderd 7 years, 2 months ago

Wow! You do realize this is an argument in favor of closing Wakarusa right?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.