Archive for Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Bell: Consultants to help forecast enrollment, adjust boundaries; board member justifies consolidation efforts; advisers consider consensus possible

October 25, 2011

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Consultants will help the Lawrence school district figure out how it ended up with another 100 students in kindergarten through fifth grade this year, part of a numbers-crunching and population-mapping exercise intended to assess reality and forecast trends to help inform decisions regarding school consolidations and future boundary changes.

Monday night, the Lawrence school board agreed to hire RSP & Associates Inc., a firm based in the Kansas City area, for $27,500 to provide what’s being described as “demographic services” to obtain enrollment data, “facility staffing and boundary analysis along with corresponding maps.”

The contract comes a month after Superintendent Rick Doll told members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group that the district would be hiring RSP & Associates to help compile data and provide forecasts.

Kyle Hayden, the district’s chief operations officer, provided the board with a memo providing background information and rationale for the contract, but not the document itself because “it contains information RSP deems proprietary and is thus confidential.”

•••

Near the end of an extended discussion Monday night regarding questions posed by representatives from the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, Vanessa Sanburn paused to consider the context of the discussion.

And then the member of the Lawrence school board explained just why it is that the working group’s volunteers are charged with making a difficult recommendation: how to consolidate a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — into either three or four within two to three years.

Previous meetings have given her a chance to espouse the values of all-day kindergarten, and how the program should be expanded to all schools. And Monday night, she outlined how many elementary schools need major work, simply to provide both safety and equity in the district.

The working group, quite simply, is assigned to help the board make the best of a difficult situation.

“It’s not just, ‘Can we afford the current system?’ We can, but it depends on our priorities and where we want to put our money,” Sanburn said.

“Certainly, we could keep every facility and we could make it work. We could go through the cutting process again. We could lay off teachers, or support staff, or decide we don’t want to invest in social workers or counselors, or (decide that) library techs are just as good as librarians, or nurses aides are just as good as trained nurses.

“I mean, those are philosophical decisions that we can make, as a district, and be able to run our district much more cheaply. I don’t think that’s a decision we want to make, or a decision that’s going to help our students in the best way possible.

“So it really is an issue of working smarter with the funding that we have, and that’s a difficult thing to do. And it’s a difficult philosophical question, about what tradeoffs do you have? And certainly elementary schools — the building is important, and that means something, but so does having a teaching staff that we can afford to give raises to. A highly trained, motivated and supported teaching staff is also a very important thing to have in a district in order to impact academic achievement.

“And we know that the standards that we are required to meet are getting higher and higher, and the money that we get from the state is getting less and less, and that is not a situation where you can afford to not work smart with the funding that you have.”

Representatives from the working group may not have asked for such an explanation, but they received it.

•••

Board member Rick Ingram welcomed questions from members of the working group, sympathizing with their having to deal with “ambiguity” and “contradictory elements” in the group’s charge.

Ambiguity: Recommending whether to consolidate either two or three schools. “That’s a big difference,” Ingram said.

Contradictory: “Consolidate schools and make them more walkable.”

“I think there’s a lot of ambiguity that you guys are dealing with that I think is making your charge probably almost impossible,” Ingram said, speaking directly to seven members of the working group’s liaison committee. “And again, at the end of the day, you have to make a recommendation to close two or three of your schools.

“Do you see any chance that you’re going to reach consensus on that?”

The question drew two answers from two committee members.

Chuck Epp, representing the Cordley School community, said that it was too early to tell.

“I think we’ve been working very well together, as a working group,” he said. “I think we’ve established trust and respect amongst ourselves. I think we embody a range of diverse views that will, in fact, be a challenge to bring together. But I think that, I think it’s possible to do it.”

Dawn Shew, representing the Kennedy School community: “I think it’s possible in the way we’ve defined ‘consensus,’ which is that there will be dissent. There will be no unanimity in the process. And I think that’s to be expected. It’s a passionate issue. People are passionate about it.

“I definitely agree that I think it’s possible for us to do, and I think we see it as an absolute: Nobody is willing to spend four months and walk away from this and quit. Nobody has expressed any desire to do that.”

The thinking, she said, is that members of the working group feel like “we need to produce something.”

The working group has seven scheduled meetings left: Nov. 7 and 21; Dec. 5 and 19; and Jan. 2, 16 and 30.

Comments

Kookamooka 4 years, 7 months ago

Pinckney and Cordley seem to have these solid, architecturally interesting, historic buildings that would be a pity to see close. The schools that were built post 1950 & 60's in the California style had asbestos ceiling tiles when they were first manufactured. Many have asbestos abatement plans in place. They were built quickly and cheaply to accommodate the baby boomers and now they are just...yuck. I wouldn't be opposed to seeing the district tear down one of those buildings and build something new. If...as Sanborn says, there is money available to do it. Show me the money.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

There is evidence that USD 497 does have the money to rehab all elementary schools without increasing taxes or shoving a bond issue down our throats. This rehab could be accomplished over a three year period. This is smart spending.

Do taxpayers want to spend more on the school bus approach? I say let's spend less and be smart.

How many ways are at the disposal of USD 497 to make the existing elementary school buildings solve our problems? Save $3 million on bussing?

Something to think about as we must assume Brownback will reduce public school spending and open more local doors for tax dollar increases.

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.

Would parents be willing to find other means for getting students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open,teachers employed and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Think car pooling,family members, The T ,walking and biking etc etc etc.

USD 497 said it needed $3 million in 2011. Are WE USD 497 taxpayers willing to come up with $3 million? Laying off teachers is not the answer.

Public school students use the T as we speak. Can the T provide service to some parents for less money? How many ways can the T assist USD 497 parents.

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

Exactly how is school consolidation the most fiscal responsible avenue? Where is the hard evidence? Says who?

walkthehawk 4 years, 7 months ago

Please, please close Kennedy. That place is a hole.

Dawn Shew 4 years, 7 months ago

So, the answer is to close it and leave a large, empty hole of blight in the middle of an already struggling neighborhood, and leave those kids (many of whom are responsible for getting themselves to school without parental help) with an unwalkable solution? That makes no sense.

Kennedy is in better shape structurally than some other schools. For example, Cordley is not ADA compliant. Put the money in the Kennedy, it is not unfixable.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Where did the 100 new kids possibly come from? Think new residents in east Lawrence. This growth has been taking place for a few years.

East Lawrence is growing by way of new families moving into east Lawrence and/or current families having children. Retaining and maintaining existing assets such as schools has been considered fiscally responsible for probably two hundred years…. down right frugal. New York School, East Heights and Kennedy School are paid for = a best bang for the tax dollar!

Nikki May 4 years, 7 months ago

Link? Obviously, they are less full now, with one less grade, but I'd like to look at this data.

Mark Jakubauskas 4 years, 7 months ago

"And Monday night, she outlined how many elementary schools need major work, simply to provide both safety and equity in the district."

I gave you money in the last bond issue to fix these problems, and like a beggar who takes the money given for food and spends it on a bottle of cheap booze, ya ran out and spent it on a bunch of athletic fields instead.

Even worse, in building said fields, the process has been marked by cost overruns caused by incompetents at the district who don't check such basic things as city building codes and permitting regulations. You could have fixed a lot of problems with the school buildings with the money squandered on concession stands, locker rooms, and restrooms.

Now you're using that neglected maintenance as a tool against the schools ? Do you think I'll vote for another bond issue in this district if it's going to be another bait-and-switch ? "Fool me once, fie on me; fool me twice, fie on you!"

mfagan 4 years, 7 months ago

Hello, Mark. I'm hearing sentiments like these more and more often, especially as the district continues to talk about another bond issue sometime in the future. One point of clarification, though: The bond issue you're likely referring to was the latest one for work at the secondary level, as I understand it. While the bond issue did not mention athletics fields -- and, as is often noted, nobody had any idea that any of that money would be used for such work -- it could not be used for elementary projects. The bond issue limited the spending to secondary projects, and the athletics fields were indeed for secondary schools. Again, I'm not saying it was the right thing to do -- there are folks on both sides of that one -- but I would say that opposition to a future bond issue likely will include plenty of references to the district's use of the last bond issue to do athletics fields, instead of focusing on other needs (at the secondary level). - Mark Fagan Schools reporter

patkindle 4 years, 7 months ago

a consultant is some one who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is and then leaves, taking your watch with them

aryastark1984 4 years, 7 months ago

This is starting to remind me of the ever shifting rationale for the War in Iraq. Last year it was all about excess capacity. Now that it is clear that what excess capacity there is is NOT in the schools targeted for consolidation, it is about "priorities and where we want to put our money."

Last year it was about how the population was moving West. This year we learn that the growth in elementary schools is on the East side (and OMG, this is so shocking we need to hire a consultant to explain why).

Last year we needed to figure out what to do because the operating budget was constrained by Topeka. Now that might not be the case anymore.

I am reminded of Steven Colbert's description of Bush "He believes on Wed the same thing he did on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.

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