Archive for Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First Bell: Consolidation Working Group struggles with closure considerations; budget uncertainty spurs questions

November 22, 2011

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One theme that continues to emerge during meetings of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group is that none of the six schools up for potential closure deserves to be there.

Take Monday night’s meeting.

John Wilkins, an architect hired by the Lawrence school district, participated in an exchange in which he’d questioned a group member’s suggestion — citing research — that any combined school with a large number of students with low socio-economic status should be capped at 300 students.

That led to a question about another school, one not on the district’s list of consolidation candidates: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill schools.

“I think there’s something called a grandfather clause,” said Chuck Epp, a group member representing the Cordley community. “Our charge is not to address problems elsewhere in the district.”

Which prompted a bit of sarcasm from Sally Kelsey, a fellow representative from Cordley.

“We’re not ‘fixing’ all the schools that already work,” she said, drawing uncomfortable laughter from other members. “We’re just ‘fixing’ these schools.”

•••

More frustration from members of the working group Monday night: Kelly Jones spent some time questioning the district’s budget situation, suggesting that the district actually ended up with a $1 million surplus after the last school year.

Rick Doll, district superintendent, acknowledged that the district hadn’t spent all that it had budgeted for the year, but also noted that the district continued to face budget constraints and actually was set to spend less money on students this year — at least until a state law required that the district spent about $3 million in savings.

Millions of dollars in cuts during the past four years could continue into 2012, but that won’t be known until Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed his budget and legislators have acted upon it.

“We have no idea, from a year-to-year standpoint, what those funds are going to be,” Doll said.

Jones, a representative from the Cordley community, noted that the “premise” of the consolidation process revolves around a “budgetary crisis” cited repeatedly by school leaders.

“I agree that Brownback, in and of himself, is a budgetary crisis,” Jones said, drawing affirmative chuckles from colleagues. “However, it’s not as if the walls are crumbling down. …

“The premise of this conversation is that we need to consolidate schools because we are operating under a budgetary crisis. Is that the case? Or is it really that operating larger schools is administratively easier or better for the district — which is a totally different conversation, and I’m open to it.”

Again, Doll pointed out that the district had been forced into budget cuts by decisions at the state level.

Dawn Shew, a group member representing the Kennedy community, wondered whether the consolidation plan should focus on long-term sustainability, not necessarily whether the district’s operating budget had experienced a temporary infusion of funds because of a state-mandated dip into savings.

Jones already had acknowledged a frustrating reality, one with little hope for a reprieve.

“I understand that this is less than ideal,” she said. “But it’s always going to be that way.”

Comments

Kookamooka 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm glad the committee is asking these questions. I'm glad they aren't pro-school closure. Has the district's legal consultant ever attending these meetings. He should be part of this conversation. I'm convinced that Doll is being driven by special interests and that his legal consultant is part of that pressure. Someone needs to dig further into this. Much further!

EJ Mulligan 3 years, 9 months ago

I, too, am glad they're asking these questions. All of these closures -- that's what they are, no matter what you call it -- are supposedly financial, yet no one (including this group, it seems) ever has seen ledgers.

Mark, thank you for good reporting on this group -- can you get access to ledgers and the like through FOIA or other means? It would be great if there could be some third-party media investigation in addition to this volunteer committee and the info that USD 497 is feeding them.

beaujackson 3 years, 9 months ago

Both 497 administration (Doll) & school board are "passing the buck" to this committee.

Members of this committee will be the "patsies" in this (expensive) fiasco.

Imagine the traffic jams around a 500 std. elementary school.

Reality is beginning to set-in.

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