After two and half years of discussion, the Lawrence school board is being asked to take a formal vote on whether to consolidate its smaller elementary schools.
“Board officers feel like it is time to make a decision,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “Everyone has the information needed to make the decision. We can’t think of any more information we can give them. It is time.”
The current vote is fueled by recommendations handed over in late February by the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. For more than six months, the group studied ways to reduce six elementary schools — New York, Cordley, Kennedy, Pinckney, Hillcrest and Sunset Hill — into three or four schools within the next two years.
The working group couldn’t reach consensus. A little more than half of the members in the working group believed the problems caused by consolidation didn’t justify the money it would save. The other side believed closing schools was a valid option but didn’t want to name which buildings would close.
Ultimately, the entire group agreed the school district needed to ask taxpayers to approve a bond that would help repair and expand existing schools.
Since receiving those recommendations, the board has asked the district about everything from the English as a Second Language program to how much money it would take to place smaller elementary schools on par with newer ones.
Board member Keith Diaz Moore believes the board is ready for a decision.
“Without making a decision, it holds up so many things,” he said. “We need to come to some sense of where we are heading in the future.”
Board member Bob Byers said a vote is necessary, but he isn’t 100 percent sure how he’ll vote Monday night. He doesn’t believe that the state will provide the funding needed to pull the district out of a financial crisis. If that’s the case, the district won’t be able to maintain the status quo. And when budgets have to be cut, Byers said, class sizes, especially those in the larger schools, go up.
“No one wants to close a school — no one does. But you also have to look at it from a practical side: You don’t want to spend a bunch of money upgrading a bunch of facilities when you might not have staff to put in them,” Byers said.
Even if the school board would decide to move forward with consolidation, it probably wouldn’t be in time to close a school before the start of next school year.
“Consolidation was never about what we are going to do next year. It has always been about what is the long-range goal,” Byers said.
Upgrades to some of the facilities that were on the list for consolidation have already been approved. In late February, the school board gave the go-ahead to replace a leaky roof at Kennedy and flooring at Pinckney and make an HVAC upgrade at Sunset Hill.
After Monday’s vote, the board’s next step is deciding what projects would be included in a bond issue. Regardless of the outcome on Monday night, Doll said a bond issue wouldn’t be ready by November.