Archive for Tuesday, October 18, 2011

School consolidation working group wants to reassess mission

Chuck Epp, a member of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, organizes his own documents while some of the the group's communal records — Ground Rules, plus unresolved issues idling in a "Parking Lot" — are affixed to the wall inside a meeting room at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. Epp and fellow group members met Oct. 17, 2011.

Chuck Epp, a member of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, organizes his own documents while some of the the group's communal records — Ground Rules, plus unresolved issues idling in a "Parking Lot" — are affixed to the wall inside a meeting room at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. Epp and fellow group members met Oct. 17, 2011.

October 18, 2011


The Lawrence school board’s new majority soon will get a chance to either confirm or alter the direction of a pivotal advisory committee, one charged with recommending a plan that would close either two or three elementary schools within the next three years.

Members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group will be posing questions next week to board members, seeking clarity regarding the volunteer group’s stated mission: “Recommend a community plan for reducing the six elementary schools of Sunset Hill, Hillcrest, Pinckney, Cordley, Kennedy and New York to four or three schools within the next two or three years.”

That directive had come in April from a board that had four different members, and at the recommendation of another volunteer group that had been working with enrollment data a year old.

Now, working group members figure that as times change, people change and numbers change, it might not be a bad idea to see whether the board’s overall thinking has changed.

“We don’t want to throw the charge out the window, but we need to be mindful of our context and our reality,” said Leslie Newman, a member representing Hillcrest School, where she has a child in school. “I don’t want to go way down the road and then have our recommendation be something that they’re not comfortable with.”

Board members will get their chance to answer questions regarding three specific issues raised during the working group’s meeting Monday night:

l Group members know they’re supposed to forward a recommendation that assumes passage of a bond issue that would finance upgrades, expansions or even new construction of elementary schools to make the system work efficiently and fairly; but what if a bond issue doesn’t pass? Must the working group come up with a plan for that, too?

l The district has gained enrollment since the working group was formed, and all remaining elementary schools would be at 86 percent capacity this year if all portables were removed, or 83 percent with portables still in place. Is consolidation still favored, with elementary schools approaching capacity?

l Would the board entertain the possibility of establishing “magnet” schools, as a potential alternative?

“I think they’ve got great questions,” said Keith Diaz Moore, a board member who took office in July and attended Monday night’s meeting as an observer. “It shows they understand the complexity of the problem. I’m encouraged that over the next month they will be able to seize the creative opportunity that’s presented to them.

“It may just be possible to provide education in a better way than we are now.”

Asking for direction will be members of a new “liaison” subcommittee, made up of one member from each of the seven school communities represented on the working group: Chuck Epp, from Cordley; Dennis Hill, from Hillcrest; Michelle Iwig-Harmon, from Woodlawn; Chris Lempa, from New York; Dawn Shew, from Kennedy; David Unekis, from Pinckney; and Daisy Wakefield, from Sunset Hill. Woodlawn is not on the list of schools considered for consolidation but has representatives on the working group.

Subcommittee members plan to meet Wednesday night to discuss their pending presentation. They are scheduled to ask their questions during the next board meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

“The crux of the question I would want to ask them is: How creative are you willing to let us be?” Epp said, after Monday night’s meeting. “Because the times demand creativity.”


Kookamooka 6 years, 8 months ago

There are likely some in the community that would work against a bond issue just so the schools wouldn't close. Yes. They need to consider what would happen if a bond issue doesn't pass.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

I maintain that a bond issue is not necessary to promote excellent education by way of existing resources being the guiding tool. The current generating level of USD 497 taxes would permit capital improvements to all elementary schools over a 2-3 year period.

Facilities and Maintenance According to some data provided by Ingram the perfect school size is around 226.

Let's take a look at New York Elementary. A new Gym was added to that school less than 10 years ago which required a fair number of tax dollars. Closing that school demonstrates little respect for how tax dollars are spent.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? 61% = over a period of time 31% do a bond issue

At $7.5 million USD 497 tax dollars a year in capital outlay funds this maintenance could be accomplished in two years without raising taxes or borrowing money. That money is actually available as we speak. In fact USD 497 2011 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities suggests $6,440,000 could be spent which includes :

Cordley Deerfield East Heights Hillcrest Kennedy Langston Hughes(replacing floor throughout this new school building) Centennial New York Pinckney Prairie Park Quail Run Schwegler Sunflower Wakarusa Woodlawn

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 5,198 said yes

No money will be saved building new schools. Two new bigger schools will cost at least $20 million. It is better to fix what we have and do it right. This way more children can walk and bike to school and the parents homes will not lose 10% more in property value due to the closing of a neighborhood school.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 8 months ago

Because nothing has changed in the 8 years since that poll was taken....

IBike100 6 years, 8 months ago

Myself and many others will work AGAINST a bond issue. This superintendent doesn't have the pulse of the people. He was brought in to close schools-then he will move on while our community deals with the carnage. Just like the former board. They are off now, and the damage is done. TALK to the teachers and see how they feel. Not one on any level is happy.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

USD 497 taxpayers do need new and larger debt to deal with. When will local politicians understand such thinking? USD 497 politicians got their candy by way of extravagant spending on the PLAY sports project.

There is zero indication that our economy will bounce back anytime soon. Politicians at all levels of government may claim that they feel change is on the horizon. They have no way of knowing which reduces such statements to rhetoric without foundation.

walkthehawk 6 years, 8 months ago

IBike, the superintendent was brought in before the weight of the budget crisis hit--I was present at his welcome convocation the year he was hired, and heard his charge to all of us (to increase outcomes for the children that Lawrence misses the boat with--only one in two african american children who starts school here graduates, in a city with a 97% graduation rate.)

That all changed when, several months later, schools were ordered to make deep mid-year cuts, and to plan for even more severe additional cuts to take effect for the coming school year. It is at that point that consolidation was placed on the table. Up until then, the Lawrence public--in all neighborhoods--was strongly against further consolidation, with many still frustrated by the closure of three elementary schools ten years prior. In short, the superintendent was brought in to RUN the schools, not close them, but he has had to play the hand he's been dealt by state finances.

conservative 6 years, 8 months ago

The mission to consolidate was already reaffirmed by the new board. If this committee is going to go back to the board every few months begging to not have to close schools then they are the wrong comittee members. If they are going to try and impede fiscal responsibility to keep their personal school open then we have a problem. Maybe it is time to disband this committee and form one from people without personal ties to the schools.

irvan moore 6 years, 8 months ago

i will not support any more bond issues, these idiots have thrown away enough of the taxpayers money

Kookamooka 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm with beatnik. It was tough watching them take money I thought was going toward teacher salaries and retention and apply it to TWO football stadiums. Who is advising this Superintendent? Is it the legal team? I smell an expose. How well connected to the developers is the administration? How much pressure is brought to bear on the district by the Foundation?

Developers believe, if they build new schools in vacant farmland (recently purchased by USD497) they can build houses and gas stations and restaurants and strip malls and call it progress. Label it some sort of Economic boom and yell it from the rooftops.

I don't like the idea of using my children as pawns in this pseudo growth plan. Cheaper materials are used for construction and I'll be the houses wouldn't even be single family. Developers around here prefer the Condo/Townhouse approach, which is why families and big businesses don't want to locate here.

Wake up Lawrence. The school district is being manipulated.

Kookamooka 6 years, 8 months ago

P.S. The district has a position for Director of Administrative Services that reports to both CEO"s of the district. (just below the superintendent?) That person will recieve 89k to 90k a year to do....what the other two administrators should be doing for their respective branches. Where is the district getting these funds? Couldn't they hire two new teachers or reinstate programs that they cut? When will they stop thinking of themselves and start thinking about the students?

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