Nearly three dozen teachers, parents and others invested in the future of six Lawrence elementary schools being considered for consolidation gathered Wednesday evening to pose question after question after question about the effort’s potential effects on kids, the evidence being used to make decisions, and the financial implications of closing either two or three schools within two or three years.
Turns out the dozens of queries, taken together, provided a welcome answer for at least one member of the Lawrence school board.
“The order in which the topics came up from the working group focused on the academic program first, then facilities, then budget,” said Keith Diaz Moore, one of seven board members scheduled to review recommendations in February from the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Working Group. “And that’s exactly how they should be focused. Their No. 1 priority should be doing what’s best for academic achievement. Their last concern should be the budget — because that’s the board’s domain.”
Diaz Moore and fellow board member Rick Ingram listened intently alongside principals, Lawrence school district staffers and others in the audience as members of the working group conducted their first working meeting.
The group’s assigned task: Come up with a recommended plan for consolidating six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — into either three or four within two to three years. That recommendation came earlier this year from a volunteer task force and won unanimous endorsement from members of the previous school board as a viable plan for balancing the community’s educational values with ongoing budget constraints.
Wednesday night, members of the working group — representatives from each of the six schools, plus Woodlawn — spent most of their two-hour meeting asking for more information:
- What would happen to the district’s English as a Second Language Program if Hillcrest and Cordley were to close, and what would happen to the district’s early-childhood program if Kennedy were to close?
- Which schools have the most students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and how would they be affected if their school or schools closed?
- How much extra room is there remaining in each elementary school for more students now that sixth-grade students are in middle schools?
- How much money, exactly, has the district saved by closing schools in the past, including Wakarusa Valley this past summer?
Answers will be expected in the coming weeks and months, as group members ponder consolidation issues while relying on information from district administrators, hired architects and others. Group members talked of starting an email list for distributing ideas and information, and possibly establishing an online forum where others could share their ideas and opinions.
Group members know they have plenty of work to do — work intended to help board members determine which schools might close, which could be upgraded or rebuilt, and how all the changes might get financed.
“We have 10 meetings to make something happen,” said David Unekis, appointed to the group as a representative of the Pinckney community.
The next is 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 19 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.