As members of the Lawrence school district’s consolidation working group begin to focus on their mission, it makes sense for the school board to ensure the group is heading down an acceptable path.
The working group is charged with devising a plan, by January, that identifies how to consolidate six elementary schools into three or four. That plan to close schools would be enacted in the next two to three years. The schools under consideration are Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill. Each school has representatives on the working group, as does Woodlawn elementary, which is not targeted for closure.
While it’s understandable that school board members want the group to do its own work, it is only fair to those 26 volunteer members of the group to make sure they understand what the school board will and will not accept. That’s particularly important because the working group was created by the previous school board, which charged the group not with deciding whether elementary schools would be consolidated but rather how that consolidation would take place. The board has four new members who need to let the working group know whether they agree with that direction.
It’s been suggested that a committee of working group members would communicate with the school board about its deliberations. That’s fine. However, it seems best if that communication were two-way and initiated by the school board. School board members should publicly go on record about what, if any, possibilities are off the table. Would the board, for example, actually close any of the six on the list? Will all six be seriously considered? Or is there a sacred cow or two among the group?
The issue of closing elementary schools in Lawrence has been discussed off and on for many years. And several of those six schools now targeted for closure have been on the chopping block before.
School board members should communicate to the working group what the board views as acceptable parameters. It would be a waste of the working group’s time — not to mention, how disheartening it would be — if the group recommended closure of two or three schools that actually are on board members’ “save list.”
Each of the seven school board members should publicly state whether he or she would vote to close each of the six schools. Only then can the working group members believe their efforts during the next several months are worthwhile.