As members of a consolidation working group continue working on a proposal for combining, expanding or even building new schools — an effort they acknowledge will only become both emotional and divisive in the weeks ahead — a team of experts is compiling numbers behind the scenes to build a data-filled foundation for deliberations.
RSP & Associates, an educational planning firm based in the Kansas City area, will deliver its initial reports Monday to members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group.
The data will indicate where students live, what economic issues they face, what programs they require, and then project how such information may change in the years ahead.
By separating the district into focused sectors — including some 256 geographical “catchments,” such as neighborhoods, subdivisions, apartment complexes or other sites — RSP officials plan to give elected officials and their appointed advisers enough information to see the big picture in terms of the Lawrence school district’s future.
“We’re using the latest data that’s available in the community to help guide decisions based on parameters that this community’s using to decide about consolidation,” said Robert Schwarz, CEO of RSP & Associates. “The answers will be evident in the data.”
But likely not yet.
The data going to members of the working group will be in a basic form: numbers, dots on maps, possibly some trends.
Group members then will be expected to take things from there and start envisioning scenarios for consideration. The Lawrence school board has asked members to recommend a plan for closing either two or three of six schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — through consolidation within the next two to three years.
Members of the working group need specific data, said Rick Doll, district superintendent. And RSP & Associates will be paid $27,500 to run the numbers, identify trends, make enrollment projections and, eventually, even draw boundary lines in accordance with the working group’s instructions.
“As controversial as this issue is, I believe that a neutral third party is best able to build credibility — not only with the working group, but the entire community,” Doll said.
RSP & Associates has worked with about 50 school districts, including Lawrence, to provide data and often help guide decision-makers through redistricting, school closings and other issues. In each case, the firm uses its statistical systems to help provide the basis for making decisions guided by community values and political realities.
“The data can help show an answer,” Schwarz said. “That’s the value of data.”
The working group’s meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. The group plans to have another six meetings — Nov. 21, Dec. 5, Dec. 19, and Jan. 2, 16 and 30 — until its recommendations are due to the school board by the end of January.