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.”