Members of the Lawrence school board clarified their instructions Monday for advisers envisioning scenarios for consolidating — as directed — two or three of six elementary schools during the next two to three years:
° Don’t allow talk of “magnet” or other theme-based schools to cloud their deliberations.
° Don’t let questions about each building’s capacity stop “creative” suggestions.
° And don’t, under any circumstances, recommend plans for consolidating schools without first assuming that voters will approve a bond issue to upgrade schools, add classrooms or even build a new school or two to make it all happen.
Just come up with a plan, they told representatives of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, and the board and broader community would get a chance to compile a bond issue that might not even require a tax increase, given that previous bond issues soon will be going off the books.
“I think that this is a really good environment,” said Vanessa Sanburn, in her third year on the board. “I do think it’s important that people recognize that this is a particular opportunity that we have in order to make an investment in schools.”
While fellow board member Shannon Kimball also expressed some optimism that a bond issue could pass, at least two other board members — Bob Byers and Rick Ingram — expressed doubt that such a financial plan could succeed.
Byers, who already has voted to cut programs, boost class sizes and close Wakarusa Valley School, doesn’t see the financial picture improving anytime soon. The state likely will continue to reduce the amount of money it sends to the district, he said, forcing yet another round of difficult choices.
And he doesn’t expect voters to step up and approve spending millions of dollars to fix, upgrade or build schools, either.
“I don’t see that a bond issue is likely to pass,” he said.
Such talk about the future came Monday at the request of the board-appointed consolidation working group, whose volunteer members have until the end of January to recommend which of their schools should be consolidated so that the district could reduce operational costs to offset revenue losses and perhaps finance other desired programs and needs.
The group’s members come from the communities of the six schools being considered for consolidation — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — plus Woodlawn, which is not a consolidation candidate.
The working group was formed near the end of the previous school year, by a school board that already has agreed to close Wakarusa Valley at the recommendation of another advisory group. That group, a task force, had met for eight months and suggested seeking a consolidation plan from the communities that would be most affected.
The thinking: If the six communities, plus Woodlawn, could come up with a single plan — one that would include fixing problems and adding classrooms at remaining schools, or even building a new school or schools — then the public could buy into a bond issue to make it happen.
Good luck, Ingram said Monday night.
Asking the group to reach consensus on which schools to close already seems “probably almost impossible,” he said, but then asking the public to approve spending millions of dollars on construction — all so that the district can wring more savings from elementary operations, perhaps without making cuts at the secondary levels — doesn’t make much sense.
“Honestly, I think a bond passing is a long shot, in the best of circumstances,” Ingram said. “And these are not the best of circumstances.”
Members of the working group meet again at 7 p.m. Nov. 7, at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. That’s when they will be scheduled to start proposing, discussing and considering potential consolidation scenarios, ones that are to be devised in anticipation of voters approving the financing to get them all done.
That’s the plan, anyway.
“If the bond doesn’t go, then we go back to the drawing board,” said Randy Masten, a board member elected in April and who took office in July.