Voting members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group on Monday moved closer to deciding how to make decisions in the coming months, as they mull options for recommending closure of at least two of their own schools.
For 46 minutes, nearly two dozen members of the volunteer group discussed ways to reach consensus during their decision-making efforts. In the end, they settled on an approach: A group decision will be deemed consensus unless “blocked” by a vote of at least five voting members of the group.
The model will carry forward all the way until the end of January, when the volunteers are due to recommend how the Lawrence school board should consolidate six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — into three or four within the next two to three years.
Setting the number at five is considered significant, because each school on the consolidation list has four voting members on the working group. (The two other voting members are from Woodlawn School, which is not on the consolidation list.)
Any school recommended for closure, therefore, would not be able to block such an initiative on its own.
“School ‘X’ is probably not going to be happy,” said Tim Laurent, a board member from the Kennedy community. “We need to understand that.”
Group members also discussed the issue of trust and how members should work to see that if such a scenario emerged — all four members of a particular school moved to block a recommendation otherwise supported by everyone else — then the entire group should try to see that all concerns would be addressed.
When it comes time to make a final recommendation, any group members who might be dissatisfied with the group’s consensus recommendation would be permitted to forward a “dissenting view” to the board, members decided.
Members of the previous school board formed the working group earlier this year, following up on a recommendation from an earlier advisory group — the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force — that had been formed to envision a system of elementary buildings while being mindful of tight finances.
Board members embraced the task force’s report and followed through with its recommendations by closing Wakarusa Valley School and forming the task force to recommend how — not whether — to consolidate schools.
The working group has nine more meetings scheduled. Among issues on the Oct. 3 agenda is one that members did not have enough time for Monday: whether to form a subcommittee to communicate with the Lawrence school board.
Also scheduled: a review of the consensus process for decision making, just to be sure that the five-votes-to-block standard is acceptable to the group.