Archive for Monday, March 28, 2011

Lawrence school board members vote to close Wakarusa Valley School

Bernie West, right, listens during a school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal to close Wakarusa Valley School. West is a third-grade teacher at Wakarusa Valley, where she has worked for 28 years. The board voted 6-1 Monday to close the school, with only board member Marlene Merrill in favor of keeping it open.

Bernie West, right, listens during a school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal to close Wakarusa Valley School. West is a third-grade teacher at Wakarusa Valley, where she has worked for 28 years. The board voted 6-1 Monday to close the school, with only board member Marlene Merrill in favor of keeping it open.

March 28, 2011, 9:51 p.m. Updated March 29, 2011, 12:43 a.m.


Bernie West, right, listens during a school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal to close Wakarusa Valley School. West is a third-grade teacher at Wakarusa Valley, where she has worked for 28 years. The board voted 6-1 Monday to close the school, with only board member Marlene Merrill in favor of keeping it open.

Bernie West, right, listens during a school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal to close Wakarusa Valley School. West is a third-grade teacher at Wakarusa Valley, where she has worked for 28 years. The board voted 6-1 Monday to close the school, with only board member Marlene Merrill in favor of keeping it open.

Peggy Roth sets up large tri-folds of district test scores information towards members of the Lawrence school board to see during a public hearing Monday regarding the proposal on closing Wakarusa Valley Elementary School.

Peggy Roth sets up large tri-folds of district test scores information towards members of the Lawrence school board to see during a public hearing Monday regarding the proposal on closing Wakarusa Valley Elementary School.

Emotions ran high for some in the audience during a Lawrence school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal on closing Wakarusa Valley School.

Emotions ran high for some in the audience during a Lawrence school board public hearing Monday regarding the proposal on closing Wakarusa Valley School.

Wakarusa Valley School soon will celebrate its 50th birthday, but it won’t be open for its 51st.

Monday night, members of the Lawrence school board voted to close the school southeast of Clinton Lake at the end of the current school year, a move projected to save the district nearly $500,000 annually and set in motion a long-term plan that would be expected to lead to more closures, consolidations and operational cost savings in the years ahead.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Scott Morgan, an outgoing board member who’s now been part of closing five elementary schools during his eight years on the board. “But it’s what grown-ups do when you’re faced with this kind of budget issue.”

More than 50 people attended Monday’s meeting, which started with a formal public hearing before the board approved the closure on a 6-1 vote. Marlene Merrill, who is seeking re-election, opposed the closure, indicating that the district should keep Wakarusa Valley open and consider closing “several” schools instead.

Closing Wakarusa Valley was one of two major recommendations forwarded to the board by the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, a 24-member group that met for eight months to come up with a long-term plan for the district’s 15 elementary schools while being mindful of the district’s declining financial resources.

The task force also calls for consolidating a list of six schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to three or four within three to five years, with construction of new or expanded schools through a bond issue. Board members will be expected to chart a course next month for pursing a public process to make it happen.

“We may need to put it on a faster track,” said Bob Byers, a board member.

The decision to close Wakarusa Valley did not include an opportunity to pursue consolidation. Instead, the task force — after also considering Cordley and Pinckney for closure — settled on the rural site at 1104 E. 1000 Road, opened in 1960 by its own school district and then voluntarily turned over to the Lawrence district a few years later.

Parents’ concerns

Monday night, more than a dozen parents of Wakarusa Valley students tried to change board members’ minds regarding closure, citing transportation challenges, air quality, academic performance, community cohesiveness, growth patterns and more. They also argued that it would be illogical to close a school that needs no major physical upgrades, provides plenty of room for expansion and educates kids who perform among the best in the district on standardized tests.

Peggy Roth, a Wakarusa Valley parent and wife of school board candidate Bill Roth, suggested that Wakarusa Valley should secede from the district.

The district should give the new district half of the tax money generated from the Wakarusa Valley area so that the school could remain open under its own leadership, she said. The district could keep the other half to cover the area’s fair share of costs at the junior highs and high schools.

“We need a divorce,” Roth said, having criticized the board for failing to consider closing Broken Arrow School or others instead. “This has been a hatchet job. We need a system that works for us.”

Preliminary plans call for Wakarusa Valley students living south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Kansas Highway 10 to attend Broken Arrow, while students living in the Easy Living Mobile Home Park would go to Sunflower School. Kids living in a residential area along the east side of Kasold Drive, from Clinton parkway to 31st Street, likely would be switched to Schwegler from Broken Arrow.

$3 million deficit

The decision came as board members began to grapple with an expected $3 million budget hole they must fill heading into the 2011-12 school year.

They learned Monday night that they likely could cover the lost revenue from the state by tapping contingency funds and making other changes.

Meanwhile, Sonja Hart will be making plans for her fourth-grade son, Garrett, to attend Broken Arrow.

“My son is very resilient,” said Hart, president of the Wakarusa Valley PTO, after the meeting. “He will do fine.”

Now she’ll continue making plans for the school’s 50th anniversary, to be conducted from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 1. Everyone’s invited. There will be cookies.

“We’ll say goodbye,” she said.


Number_1_Grandma 7 years ago

Just don't pass anymore bond elections for building of new schools and they'll have to quit closing the ones we have. Seems like a dog chasing its tail to me.

chihuahua2 7 years ago

This whole thing is crap!! They want our kids to get a good education but they keep taking and taking and closing schools! How can they get an education at all!!! I dont have kids that go to that school but I have friends that work there!! And its not right at all for the students there and the facualty!!!STOP CLOSING SCHOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

formerfarmer 7 years ago

That makes a lot of sense, Wilbur. If you cut all the proposed savings out of the mill levy, how do you propose to make up the three million dollars the state is cutting out of state aid?

4getabouit 7 years ago

All emotion aside, a tough and responsible decision was made.

Robert Kidder 7 years ago

How is it responsible to close a facility that is sound and has no immediate maintenance needs while keeping open a facility that has an immediate need for over $3 million in updates and repairs?

gr3sam 7 years ago

Responsible? Yes, and chickens have lips!

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

Wakarusa was sacrified in the name of bettering the Lawrence School District. Well, I'd damn well better see some improvement from this sorry excuse for an organization. There were numerous other ways to go to find $3M and this cowardly board chose to hide behind the flawed recommendation of the Doll/Minder/Morgan task force. Ask any one of them WHY? Why close Wakarusa? Because the task force told me to! If I wanted to be a standup person, I'd tell you what I really think, but it's just easier to hide behind the task force. We wouldn't want to make too many people mad. Guess what? You just made a lot of people mad. And we're just dumb hicks out here in the country you don't know what we'll think to do next! Probably cow-tipping will be involved. You know you people act like we don't matter at all. Like we don't have a voice. Like we don't vote. You do realize we work and shop in Lawrence and we DO vote? We can also NOT vote, as in for a bond issue. And we are not without our friends and co-workers in the Lawrence city limits. Let's see who has more clout when it's all said and done. You may have ticked off the wrong group.

B73 7 years ago

Responsible? Do we need to close one or more elementary schools? Sadly, yes, we probably do. According to USD 497 estimates, we have excess capacity of 1,500 seats in the K-5 system. So, which school should be closed first?

School A: Saves roughly $500,000/yr. Needs no major updates or upgrades. Dozens of children will have to travel 12 additional miles each way to new school (an extra 30 minutes per day). Many children will have bus rides approaching ONE HOUR EACH WAY. School A serves a catchment area of 80 sq mi.

School B: Saves roughly $500,000/yr. Needs $1M+ dollars worth of updates and upgrades. Dozens of children will have to walk or ride an additional 4-6 blocks.

Both schools have a strong community. Both schools have strong parental support and serve wonderful children.

When you detach names and emotions from the decision, it is pretty easy to see that the Board made a political decision, not the decision that best serves the children of USD 497.

Ooops. Almost forgot. USD 497: "Serving the Children of Lawrence". It is clear from their decision that the Board values the children of Lawrence more than the rural children in the district.

Please vote NO on the upcoming bond issue. We have excess capacity in our K-5 system; we do NOT need new schools.

P.S. Which school do I mean when I say School B? Pick one of four or five schools in Lawrence.

Synjyn Smythe 7 years ago

Vanessa: You're an idiot.

School Board: How can we expect you to oversee our childrens' educations when you, yourselves (excepting Mrs. Merrill) cannot tell the difference between $3M and less than $400K??

Voters: It is time for a new school board majority that has some fiscal sense, knows the meaning of "appearance of impropriety," and will make sensible decisions based upon actual evidence!

Mandi McNeer 7 years ago

This is sad and horrible. What about all the kids that go to that school and the people that work there? Does anyone think about them? We shouldnt be closing schools!!!!!!!!! Some school are over populated how about moving some of those students to the schools that dont have the enrollment numbers. My fondest memories of elementary school are at Wakarusa.

compmd 7 years ago

A society that doesn't care about its future closes schools.

somebodynew 7 years ago

you might want to try to explain that comment to the Gov and his pals in the legislature.

deec 7 years ago

They'll probably move at least some of the staff to the schools where the students are being moved. What about the increased transportation costs for the children? Did they factor that in? Why not just alter the school boundaries to better utilize the underpopulated schools? It seems likea a 15 minute bus trip across town is a lot shorter than the hour some of thses chilkdren will be riding the bus. I wonder which developer has his eye on the WV property.

thelonious 7 years ago

deec says -

"Why not just alter the school boundaries to better utilize the underpopulated schools?"

I've often wondered this myself. Seems like altering boundaries to reflect population shifts would be less costly than abandoning some schools and then building new ones. In my opinion, there is more at work here than the budget or what's best for the district or the kids - continual recycling of buildings, with the accompanying construction of new ones, keeps the developers happy. That's what it's all about, folks.

So what happens is that the wealthier people who live in the nice, new neighborhoods have a nice, new neighborhood school for their kids, and the kids in the older, poorer neighborhoods have no school in their neighborhood and have to be transported to the newer ones. It's about money and power, folks - that's all it's about, unfortunately.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

This is what I think as well. I think that we should carefully watch what is maneuvered over the next 6 months. And be sure to tell all of your friends how they are wasting our hard earned money on new schools, while closing perfectly good existing schools. Let's all give ourselves a tax cut instead of feeding the monster. Foregoing on new set of High School bleachers would play for Wakarusa.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

foregoing one new set of bleachers would pay for Wakarusa.

Bob Forer 7 years ago

A disproportionate number kids in the poor schools tend to be minorities. The school board is lily white and very middle class. They don't give a damn about kids of color. Nothing but rank racists, in my opinion.. Shame on the school board (except for Ms. Merrill).

igby 7 years ago

So all the money they blow on sports complexes.

Stephen Roberts 7 years ago

Les - the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Task Force was not designed to find a way to adequately fund the schools while keeping ALL of them open. If you would like to keep all of the schools open, please send a huge check, about $ 3 million US dollars, to USD 497.

People, if you have better ideas, let the board members know. Also, just cutting administrators isn't going to get you there. Last year, everyone (except the ones on a teachers contract) at the district office, took a gross pay cut. This would be administrators and everyone. If you want to cut salaries at the district office, I say cut salaries across the whole district, instead of just one group.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

Commuter, they didn't need a $3M check! They found $2.5M of it easy enough. It was never about finding $3M. They lied to the members of the task force and they lied to us. Period. They say they'd like to find a way to keep all schools open, but they just can't. Well, for only $500,000 they could have. They've known for quite some time where they would find the $2.5, yet until last night they never bothered to share that nugget of information. They let us waste our time trying to solve a $3M problem they'd already solved. They wanted to close Wakarusa because it had too few kids by their standards, nevermind that it was a terrific learning environment for our children. That's irrelevant. What's relevant is this board sees fit to close schools and lots of them. They don't want to make the constituents on the east of town mad. They have more voting powerthan us and they may not vote in favor of the bond issue. Well, good luck with that. This was a political issue. Now that they've rolled us and we stand to gain a very SONS heavy board, I'd say the chances of any bonds or consolidation is incredibly slim. I would sincerely hope some of this does come to pass though. Not because I particularly care whether new schools are built for the in-town kids, but because it damn well make our sacrifice worth something.

Salvia 7 years ago

Remember, Mrs. Merrill is running for re-election. Her past comments have seemed to favor school closings. At a previous school board meeting, she wanted to delay the vote ( until after the election). Seems like her vote was more political than heartfelt. She knew the motion would pass even without her vote.

southdakotan 7 years ago

Lawrence can spend $18 million on a new homeless shelter expansion (aka library) but it can't spend $500,000 on keeping a school open. I know, different 'pots' of money, but stil......

nativeson 7 years ago

Budget decisions are never easy. Wakarusa Valley already had 50+ kids being bussed to the school that lived outside the boundaries just to keep it at some level of capacity. The mill levy being adjusted has nothing to do with the shortfall. The state funding cuts have forced this issue, and it reduces local funding as well due to the limits placed on the local option budget.

One reason a bond issue is practical relates to the ability for the district to place this on the ballot and fund it with local taxes. If it ultimately reduces operating costs that are funded by the state, it is possible that this is a good long-term decision. However, I doubt it would be supported in this climate.

really_ 7 years ago

HELL NO it won't be supported. Wakarusa Valley serves 88% of it's catchment area (the area it is designated to serve) which means it does NOT get the majority of kids from in town AND is facilities sound to take on more kids AND produces high quality education WITH high quality scores. But the board gets to hide behind the task force recommendation because they are cowards. No board member EVER responded to the request to not make a closure decision until the Air Quality (aka MOLD) report is completed at Kennedy. Why? Minder NEVER addressed the issue of impropriety. Why? Things that make you go HMMM!!! Because it is political. Smoke and mirrors for these people's hidden agendas. But the ones that are impacted - the CHILDREN - are the ones that really don't have a voice in this. Guess who still sleeps at night - he told us himself - the good ole Dr. Doll. Dr. Doll who by the way was lingering the halls of Waky this morning - to "offer support in light of the hard decision" made last night. Get real!! The students and teachers are trying to get in the mind set for math assessments after it was voted to close their school. But I forget, they don't care about those statistics! What needs to happen now....the board members have a duty to the children that will now be displaced because of their decision - honor their sacrifice, because that is what happened. Their school was sacrificed "to improve USD497". Listen to their parents on what is needed to help in this transition. Listen to their teachers on what is needed to help in this transition. PLEASE do not go into this next phase with your minds already made up like you did last night before you even heard any of us speak.

Irenaku 7 years ago

New York or Kennedy will be next, just wait.

Sharon Aikins 7 years ago

What a sad day! How many students are bused outside their boundaries in town to keep the schools balanced? Only one year of living in Lawrence did one child actually attend the neighborhood school. The rest of the time they were bused to other schools in town.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Marlene likely would have supported the closing if she were not up for re-election. Her alternative is not acceptable either.

She is all for closing schools to build new schools = no sense.

Vote NO on all incumbents!!!

I say all students to attend schools closest to their homes and/or allow parents to transport their children to wherever. STOP spending so much on bus transportation and spending more on education!!!

Sharon Aikins 7 years ago

And in the same breath they talk about bond issues for new or expanded facilities for combined schools? They are kidding right? But, hey, if we voted for the new $18 million white elephant, why not a new school or two while old ones sit vacant or used as storage?

Salvia 7 years ago

redmoonrising-- if you are talking about the athletic fields, the voters never got a say in that. They were done without a vote from citizens,

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Something to think about: Each school is worth several million dollars. Why destroy them?

USD 497 budgets $4-4.5 million to bus students. The district is charged at a daily rate depending on how many students use the transportation.

Parents would you be willing to find other means to get your students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open,teachers employed and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Think car pooling,family members ,walking and biking.

USD 497 says it needs $3 million. Can WE come up with $3 million?

IF 75% of students were no longer bussed: 75% of $4,000,000 = $3,000,000 (million)

75% of $4,500,000 = $3,375,000

Or if parents opt to assume all responsibility that puts $4 million - $4.5 million into the operations cookie jar annually. These are real dollar savings.

Closing schools to build schools may well increase the cost to bus children = waste of tax dollars and children's time.

Vote NO on all incumbents!!!

Vote Ingram/Masten/Diaz-Moore

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

Well at least now we know what part of town you live in.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Lawrence,Kansas needs to start talking about this.

Close the current USD 497 admin building and move the admin staff and BOE meeting room to Centennial. There is plenty of space aka former class rooms. The Gym can be converted to the BOE meeting room. Bring USD 497 back to the community!

Put the large white elegant admin building on the market and move those funds into the USD 497 cookie jar to help clear up what appears to be negligence on the part of USD 497 BOE. Why does USD 497 BOE fail to maintain property that belongs to USD 497 taxpayers?

On Feb 14 and Feb 28 the USD 497 BOE voted to approve nearly $1 million MORE dollars towards the ongoing the sports project for new bleachers and new items at Free State.

USD 497 pays $1.73 million for new land. About $23,000 per acre for unimproved land.

Community indicated no interest in expensive athletic project. Why did USD 497 BOE do this in tight economic times?


southdakotan 7 years ago

Merrill, I'm not sure I understand your comments compared to who you are supporting. According to Masten's online chat comments, he supports closing schools. Can you clarify?

"Randy Masten: The Task Force recommended a two-phased process: close one school, but no more than that, this year, and then, over the next 3-5 years, use a community-involved process to consolidate schools on the east side and the central area of Lawrence. In my view the entire process depends on the current board honoring the recommendations for the first phase. If, as recommended, this board closes no more than one school this year, as I believe is appropriate and best suited to maintain community support for the plan, I think we have a very good chance of gaining broad community support for the bond issues necessary for the second phase. I will then support the Task Force's second-phase recommendations, and I favor moving ahead with a community process to plan those consolidations. The Task Force left many critical elements of those consolidations for further discussion and decision, and I think the Task Force was exactly right that we will best ensure community support for the necessary bonds if we plan the process appropriately and inclusively."

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

I cannot clarify Masten's statements......

I have been under the impression otherwise.....

Perhaps I need to contact Masten sometime today...

Thanks for the tip...

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

Smoke, mirrors, and lies! And why are all the 'stakeholders' slated for consolidation given so many concessions and considerations? Why do they get a process and we didn't even get dinner out of the deal? The current board and many of the candidates Merrill is supporting have been nothing but condescending to us. They've not even done us the courtesy of questioning the task for receommendation, because gosh, we wouldn't want to offend those 24 people, they might never volunteer for anything again! I can tell you personally the 100's of parents at Wakarusa Valley have volunteered lifetimes, but see how long that parental involvement lasts when they have to drive to the other side of town. We do not accept this. We do not see the positives in this for our children, and we never will. This will always be a black mark on the record of this board and that superintendent hatchet man and his minions. This whole "process" has been nothing short of insulting and do not think for a moment we are finished with this yet.

BigPrune 7 years ago

In 5 Years when that closed school is run down and falling apart, the school board will revisit building a new Wakarusa Valley.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

But why build a new one, the building is in perfect shape.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

I fail to see the value in closing schools anywhere only to come back with a bond issue for $20 million or more to build new buildings.

I don't see how USD 497 can afford another 20 million on top the 20 million that was blown on the sports project....

Why does USD 497 BOE fail to maintain property that belongs to USD 497 taxpayers?

BruceWayne 7 years ago

stop illegal immigration and deport ALL illegals. you will be amazed how fast the economy will recover. how many illegals are attending our public schools free of charge?

irvan moore 7 years ago

me too, i talked to him and was under the impression he didn't want to close any schools. they need to quit building schools and use the ones they have. new schools are a taxpayer subsidy for developers, they make money building houses and then force us to build them schools. if you have school age kids buy a house in an area where there is room for them in school. i hope the new board comes in and revisits this issue, this board has had an agenda to close schools for years. loveland and morgan have done a lot of damage to this community.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Except Wakarusa. He has publicly said close Wakarusa.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

Masten and Diaz Moore are SONS people and they most certainly do not want to see their neighborhood schools closed. Masten is paying lipservice to consolidation because he knows the voters of Lawrence will not support it anyway. It's an easy position to take, he plays nice with the board, HONORS the the task force recommendation, gets elected and in the end gets what he wants anyway. Even IF the bond is passed the worst that will happen will be his kids get a brand new school! It's a win-win for those folks.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Mastin thinks that he is a Chicago Alderman, or union leader. His ego knows no bounds. Perfect fit for SONS, who want to control education in this town.

The reason that Wakarusa was closed, was to orchestrate a situation in which the far west side elementary schools become overcrowded, and gee, I guess we will have to build another Mc Elementary. Very convenient for the west side developers, with their languishing building lots, and commercial space. Wonder if that is linked to the sports facilities. Hmmm. Oh wait, this is a school board only interested in the best education of our children. I must be imagining things.

BigPrune 7 years ago

"It doesn't get any easier than this, because I am not a child trapped in an adult body, and when you're not a child trapped in an adult body, you have to make these grownup kind of decisions and stuff"

How can there be a shortage in money? Just how does this happen?

Remember the $56 Million bond, remember the $56 Million bond, remember the $56 Million bond, remember the $56 Million bond, remember the $56 Million bond.

For Lawrence to have such an educated population, why is everyone so stupid? No child left behind came along too late?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

I am against closing neighborhood schools.

Wakarusa school is a neighborhood school.

Wakrusa neighborhood is configured a bit different than our "conventional" neighborhoods.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Yeah, the houses are farther apart. That's what makes our school so necessary to our community. It is the hub of all that goes on out here.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Wakarusa serves 80 square miles of young learners.

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years ago

Why do you homeschool? Is your neighborhood school not good enough for your kid?

funkdog1 7 years ago

I have an honest question: It seems like a foregone conclusion that there will be more development out in that part of Lawrence in the future. Aren't they just going to have to open up Wakarusa again in a few years? And won't Wakarusa in fact probably have to be expanded at some point to accomodate growth in that area of town?

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

They don't care. It is not in the plan.

funkdog1 7 years ago

What plan? It just seems to me as if there's no long-term thinking happening right now. I understand that the money is short and it isn't coming back immediately, but isn't it going to cost more in the long run to close a school and then open it back up again later?

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

It's not in the school board's plan anyway. If you talk to a City or County commissioner or a real estate expert or about any other economic developer in Lawrence, they'll tell you there is a plan, called Horizon 2020 that calls for growth in the south and west of Lawrence. But the school board has never been known for making long range plans of any sort. LOVED Loveland's comment last night that she wasn't seeing any growth there. Well, 1) We're in a recession sweetheart, and 2) it ain't 2020 yet. Let's see how much growth there will be in the next 10 years.

parentoffive 7 years ago

This is not primarily about the school being stupid because they cannot do math. Not about irresponsibility because they will spend millions on sports complexes at the cost of properly and responsibly educating elementary school children. This was a calculated, long planned operation that is about politics and class. I have children at Waki, and I can tell you that the school board was going to close Waki no matter what. Last year when this issue was raised Mr E, the principal, led the parents in a protest that kept the school open. Mr E, who by the way was the only school administrator I have ever liked or believed in, was fired. They brought in a politician, part time principal from Broken Arrow who had one task, make it possible to close the school. The man spent only a handful of hours a week administering Waki. The school board chose to put the students of Waki at risk this year by essentially denying the school a principal for a full year. This was calculated, people. It is indefensible. And there is NO way anyone on the school board can claim to have even a smidgen of interest in the well being of the rural, less privileged children at Waki. That IS your school board. Enjoy your Free State football field, folks, because the kids who will be going to free State in a few years will have a lesser education because of it.

thelonious 7 years ago

This is correct. Keep speaking truth to power, parentoffive.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Does any of this make any sense at all? Thinking the money could have been spent on one of the buildings owned by USD 497 taxpayers. Instead they are planning for a new neighborhood that very few taxpayers want. And what taxpayers wanted the board to pay $23,000 per acre for unimproved land? Is this reckless spending or what?

The Lawrence school district has paid $1.73 million to purchase a prime piece of property that would be prominent along the proposed route of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

At their Oct. 26 meeting, school board members approved the purchase of 76 acres of farm and pasture ground southeast of Lawrence. The property, near the intersection of East 1750 and North 1300 roads, would be just west of where the South Lawrence Trafficway would connect with the existing Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.

School district leaders said they did not have a firm plan for the property, but said it could be used for a future school site or a new outdoor campus and wellness center that is gaining momentum with Bill Self’s Assists Foundation and also with a private board led by Lawrence businessman John McGrew.

“The answer of what we’re going to do with it right now is nothing because we have no money for it,” school board member Scott Morgan said of the land.

Instead, Morgan said the purchase came after the previous school board instructed staff members to look for land opportunities south of Lawrence because that is where the largest amount of undeveloped land in the district is located.

“I don’t think people realize how much of the school district is south of the Wakarusa River,” Morgan said. “We’re not growing much now, but I think there is a pretty good chance that we’ll grow again.”

District leaders said they were sensitive to concerns about spending money on property at the same time that some school board members — including Morgan — have suggested the district may need to consider closing schools in the future.

Frank Harwood, chief operations officer for the district, said the money the school district used for the purchase came from the district’s capital outlay fund. By state law, that money can’t be used for teacher salaries or other operational expenses.

“That pot of money can’t be used to pay for running schools that we would be looking to close,” Harwood said. “If we could have used that money on general fund expenses, we wouldn’t have made this purchase.”

motomom 7 years ago

i am so sorry fellow waky parents. i totally understand. my kids went to centennial when it was closed. it was heartbreaking and STILL raises the hair on our necks every time we drive by it. our family was very involved in the battle to keep it open and even though we had factual statistics as to why it should have been the school to remain open...the board closed it anyways. we discovered that they had a "plan" the entire time and no matter what we would have done ,their minds were already made up. i reckon that is just what is happening with waky. we moved out to the country shortly after centennial's closing, so my son could go to wakarusa. we heard it was a very wonderful place and it was. now when i drive by wakarusa i suppose i will get the same sick feeling as when i drive on louisiana street. keep your chins up, friends....there are always fun memories. your kiddo's will be fine, it just really stinks seeing something so special go away. take care.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

“I don’t think people realize how much of the school district is south of the Wakarusa River,” Morgan said. “We’re not growing much now, but I think there is a pretty good chance that we’ll grow again.”

Are ya kidding me??? He's unbelieveable.

irvan moore 7 years ago

i think i'm going to trust Mastin to do the right thing, i truly believe he will do what is best for the children of Lawrence. is it possible for the new board to revisit the issue and keep Wakarusa open?

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

This is a paid advertisement, and does not neccessarily reflect the opinions of those who know better.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Scott Morgan, who lost his re-election bid in 2003 by 66 votes, following a period when the school board decided to close and consolidate four elementary schools. "If that cost me the election, it was an easy price to pay. Not because I revel in closing things, but because that was so long overdue. The kids will be so much better served," Morgan said as he was finishing out the final days of his term four years ago.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Someone had a plan for those 75 acres....

July 2010 City Commission Agenda Receive request from John McGrew,of Outside for a Better Inside, for a discussion about a wellness campus, complete with pond and walking trail. AND more sports projects...... plus two members representing the Chamber of Commerce.

“We just have to see if the community wants to dream big,” said John McGrew, leader of Outside for a Better Inside, the organization driving to create the wellness campus in southeast Lawrence.

Campus plan

The vision from McGrew and others in the organization is just beginning to make formal rounds among local leaders, after months of development behind the scenes. McGrew plans to share concepts with members of the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board in coming weeks.

As envisioned, the campus would be built on parts of 115 acres owned by the city and Lawrence school district at the southeastern edge of Lawrence

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Yes someone has plans for those 75 acres....

A gymnasium, wellness center, handicap-accessible ballfield and lake surrounded by walking trails are in the works for what one day could become one of the busiest highway interchanges in Lawrence.

Organizers now hope to take the plan from dream to reality, acknowledging that concept has plenty of distance to go: first needing public support, and then securing as much as $25 million in financing.

“We just have to see if the community wants to dream big,” said John McGrew, leader of Outside for a Better Inside, the organization driving to create the wellness campus in southeast Lawrence.

Campus plan

The vision from McGrew and others in the organization is just beginning to make formal rounds among local leaders, after months of development behind the scenes. McGrew plans to share concepts with members of the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board in coming weeks.

As envisioned, the campus would be built on parts of 115 acres owned by the city and Lawrence school district at the southeastern edge of Lawrence. The property is northeast of East 1700 and North 1300 roads, just southwest of where the Kansas Department of Transportation plans to build an interchange to connect the existing Kansas Highway 10 with an as-yet-unbuilt eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The city has owned 40 acres of the site for years, most of it held for a future park.

Last year, the school district paid $1.7 million for about 75 acres adjacent to the northern and eastern boundaries of the city property, to hold in reserve for future needs such as a possible school or schools. District officials have acknowledged that “community interests” could be entertained as options for the site.

That’s what McGrew and others, such as Phil Struble of Landplan Engineering, are hoping for.

“It just happens to be a great idea that fits here,” said Struble, who is president of Landplan, which drew up a proposed site plan for the campus. “This is a focal point to start the conversation.”

Douglas County commissioners already have agreed to participate in helping move the discussion forward. Commissioner Jim Flory has suggested forming a “working group” — with members from county, district and city governments — to discuss options and see what might work.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Now we all must consider can any of us withstand a 10% decrease in market values of our homes?

This does not of course mean taxpayers will experience a 10% decrease in county assessed value. Neither the city nor the USD 497 can afford to take hit. Why? Their reckless tax dollar spending habits cannot be supported.

Market value and Assessed County values are seldom the same. Note lenders do not accept County Assessed values when seeking loans on property.

An increase in County Assessed Property Value is really a tax increase ...... nothing to be celebrated necessarily.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

FYI = No one can afford a 10% decrease in property value which is the potential due a neighborhood school closing.

The USD 497 BOE has been wanting to make us feel good about retiring existing bond issues, Let me feel good about it by not bringing on another bond issue that increases my cost of living while at the same time supporting a market value decrease of my property.

Flap Doodle 7 years ago

Calm down, planet-killer. You'll rupture something.

Paula Kissinger 7 years ago

Aside from Ms. Merrill the school board is worthless. There is no actual care or concern for the students...never has been. This can change on election day. These board members who display other "things" more important than the welfare of the students need to be voted out at every election until we have a decent set in place. I have not seen such a board in the 13 years my son attended school. This is the only change that needs to be made and when the elected board members fail to deliver on their promises they need to be immediately removed from office for breach. Period. My children both attended Lawrence schools and graduated with no knowledge of anything relevant to success in the "real" world. My daughter was an almost straight A student, my son has a developmental delay, was bullied, was denied an IEP for 9 years and when the teachers KNEW he needed additional assistance did not fulfill that obligation. The school board, the district, the administrators and the teachers fail the students on a regular basis and the BUDGET is not the problem. It is the people...replace them.

AnglNSpurs 7 years ago

The problem is, that all the individuals that live in Waky land, outside of the city limit, cannot vote on school board members. Apparently we have to live in the city of Lawrence to be considered.

youngjayhawk 7 years ago

If you live in the USD 497 school district, you vote for members of the school board whether you live within the city limits or not.

Clevercowgirl 7 years ago

Duh, do you vote? I live in "WAKY LAND" and I vote for School Board memebers.

AnglNSpurs 7 years ago

CC- I vote very chance I get! Unfortunately, I go and vote at the court house, as I cant get to my neighborhood voting headquarters, and even then, I have never seen a SB ballot. Possibly my location is out of USD497 boundries. Believe me, If I would have been able to cast a vote on these "great" Board members closing schools, I would have!

4yourinfo 7 years ago

Children's best interest? We will need more than mopeds to save our children! Rural school not such a bad idea?

4yourinfo 7 years ago

Who sold the land for $23,000 an acre? Surely a stand-up patron of the community would be willing to purchase the land back for the same price? After all he cut the school board such a great deal....right? But he has probably left the country after that sale! It's not like he was on the task force.....right?

Steve Jacob 7 years ago

If you going to close a school, how can you not closed the one with the least students. But I don't understand keeping Kennedy open either, as much money that it will take to fix it.

4yourinfo 7 years ago

Dr. Doll stated that he hand selected and placed everyone of those who served on the task force in place and was very proud of the choices he made, read into this as you will. Along with two members of the school board on the committee to make sure the group stays on course and so Morgan can out of the blue one night say basically I am seeing there is a concensus to close Wakarusa Valley which was obviously some preconceived idea that came from outside of this meeting. FYI last night you spoke of chess at a local school and got very excited and I see why! Checkmate pawns in place you have achieved your goal, had to wait a year but achieved! All the while collecting pieces first a principal with principles forced to resign for being supportive of his school, students and families in the public eye, then an outstanding librarian and numerous talented staff. Your the expert Dr. where did your children go to school?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

"Who sold the land for $23,000 an acre?"

If my memory serves me well...... Phillip Glass. He also was sitting on the Task Force I noticed.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

VOTE Tuesday April 5

It is my thinking that the next BOE can reverse this decision. Had this issue been put to a vote by the taxpayers that might create problems.

Then again it is likely USD 497 taxpayers would not support closing the schools. There are other options.

VOTE Tuesday April 5

Cogito_Ergo_Es 7 years ago

The election won't help, really. We're losing four of the board and maybe one will be re-elected. She could just as easily swing to vote Waky closed again. Unless we get 4 to vote in favor of keeping it open it won't fly. Unless you get every single new person to reverse this decision, you would still have to get one or more of the remaining members, Bradford (next year's board president, goodness help us all), Byers (who we thought we could count on), or Vanessa (who was a total disappointment from marching with SONS last year) to reverse their decision as well. Tough battle. That's why we should make sure the people we vote for aren't pretenders like this board. If they are affiliated with SONS then we know they want to keep THEIR neighborhood school open but don't give a damn about kids outside the city limits. So, that leaves, Jim Clark, Bill Roth, Ola Foucher, and Taylor OR Diane! Unless you effectively throw away one vote, a vote for any of the others pretty much ensures they'd just throw Waky under the bus again.

mothergoose_grimm 7 years ago

Where oh where were all of you smart, "I have all the answers", people been for the last 8+ months that the task force has been meeting? I would take a guess that over half of you on this thread don't even have kids in the school slated to be closed or consolidated. If you are so concerned about the kids and schools please read everything there is to read on the school districts web site. Then you may understand the in's and out's of the state law and how money can be spent. If you already know it all you wouldn't be complaining that the district is wasting money on sport stadiums. I don't think it is a good idea to spend so much money on them but this comes from a different fund and CAN NOT be used for operations cost, so that point is done. This is about education, yet, very few of you have a clue what you are talking about. Please read all the info before you complain about how something is being done. Also, if you have all the answers why is you name not on the school board ballot?????

Kelly Russell 7 years ago

Huge HUGE mistake! A few years down the road, South Junior High (Middle) School and Lawrence High School will both experience the negative effects of closing an elementary school that pulls at-risk students up to a level of achievement. Now those at-risk students will be crowded into large, big-box schools where they will fall through the cracks while at the same time pulling the better students down with them. Very sad for all of them. Very sad for all of us.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

All of that money spent on the NOT necessary sports project could have been spent on addressing the maintenance issues of USD 497 taxpayer owned school buildings. Instead of allowing them to experience further neglect.

Reckless spending on the sports project is not affordable........ ever.

VOTE April 5 - Tuesday!!!

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