Archive for Monday, April 9, 2012

Lawrence school board votes to keep all elementaries open for now, but issue likely to return

April 9, 2012


Lawrence’s smallest elementary schools will stay open — for now.

The Lawrence school board voted 5-2 to keep all Lawrence elementary schools open at Monday night's meeting. Board members Bob Byers and Shannon Kimball, pictured, cast the two dissenting votes.

The Lawrence school board voted 5-2 to keep all Lawrence elementary schools open at Monday night's meeting. Board members Bob Byers and Shannon Kimball, pictured, cast the two dissenting votes.

On Monday, the Lawrence school board voted 5-2 to not consolidate any of six elementary schools in east and central Lawrence. The decision came after two years of discussion and the recommendations of two separate community groups.  

“As of today, we can keep all schools open,” school board President Mark Bradford said. But he cautioned the audience that had gathered in the board’s chambers that circumstances could change.

Bradford — and many of the other school board members voting Monday — believed a bond issue was crucial to upgrade those small schools and a longer range plan was needed.

Bob Byers and Shannon Kimball were the only two board members who didn’t want to close the door on consolidation.

Kimball said taking the option of consolidation off the table was a “little bit short-sighted.” She asked how the district planned to reach a goal of having smaller class sizes and full-time support staff in each school without closing schools.

And, the option of consolidation would allow the district to be more flexible in addressing changes in the English as a Second Language program and shifting funding from the state Legislature, she said.

“I think by not continuing that discussion we are drawing lines that we might not be able to live by in the future,” she said.  

Board member Vanessa Sanburn reminded the board that consolidation wasn’t going to be the “golden egg” that would allow for elementary schools to hire all the staff they needed. That would take major changes from the state Legislature.  

“I don’t think the benefits of consolidation outweigh the costs it would have on our community at this time,” Sanburn said.

Monday’s vote was spurred by the recommendations that the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group handed over in late February. 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 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 choose which buildings to 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.

Mike Myers, a New York representative, was among those on the working group who advocated for not consolidating schools and was pleased with Monday’s decision.

“I think this is looking forward,” Myers said of board’s decision.

Even those who pushed to consolidate schools, believing it was needed to keep school equitable, weren’t surprised by Monday’s vote. “I think whatever happens, it is important that the board come up with a sustainable, long-range plan for our schools. The key issues have been laid out there, so it is up to them to deal with those,” Pinckney representative Stacey White said.


maudeandcecil 5 years, 11 months ago

A strong 5-2 vote in support of no further closures makes your headline choice frustrating. Why not have moved the conversation forward by highlighting the business of "developing a sustainable long range plan for our schools", as Ms White suggests?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Kimball is very much a Chamber of Commerce representative. I do not understand where Byers is coming from.

aryastark1984 5 years, 11 months ago

I assume you mean Kansas Chamber of Commerce, not Lawrence CC. My impression has been that the local CC did not think closing elementary schools would have a positive effect on the local economy.

I frankly do not know where either one of them are coming from. They seem to be repeating the talking points from the previous board, rather than recognizing new information. For instance, i don't know how you can persist in believing that closure/consolidation will enable a reduction in class size when you have concrete data that class sizes at Broken Arrow and Sunflower INCREASED after Wakarusa was closed. This is basic math people. The majority of the cost savings from closing schools comes from firing teachers. If you don't fire teachers, you don't save a whole lot of money. If you do fire teachers, class sizes increase. This is just basic math.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Facilities and Maintenance

Let's take a look at New York Elementary. A new Gym was added to that school less than 10 years ago which required a fair number of tax dollars. Closing that school demonstrates little respect for how tax dollars are spent.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? 61% = over a period of time 31% do a bond issue

At $7.5 million USD 497 tax dollars a year in capital outlay funds this maintenance could be accomplished in 3-5 years without raising taxes or borrowing money. That money is actually available as we speak.

In fact USD 497 2011 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities suggests $6,440,000 could be spent which included :

Cordley Deerfield East Heights Hillcrest Kennedy Langston Hughes(replacing floor throughout this new school building) Centennial New York Pinckney Prairie Park Quail Run Schwegler Sunflower Wakarusa Woodlawn

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 5,198 said yes

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

No money will be saved building new schools. Two new bigger schools will cost at least $20 million. It is better to fix what we have and do it right. This way more children can walk and bike to school.

Hey folks the "artificial boom town economy" set up by "Shady Deal Real Estate and Financial Institutions Inc" is over after taking the nations economy down the tubes. Some folks seem to still believe we're rolling along as if nothing happened .... those that have not lost their jobs or been negatively impacted.

To maintain a superb system parents must remain active which means we cannot allow school boards to dictate what will be. As taxpayers we are also the most important stakeholders who elect school boards to carry out our wishes not the other way around.

Our founding fathers wanted to insure Democracy for our country. Benjamin Franklin created the public library, the purpose being no citizen will be secluded from public knowledge. He also founded the public school, the purpose being no citizen will be without a basic education.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Demolition By neglect policy

The consolidation group was given the task to decide which schools to close. No other decision was acceptable. That task was decided before the group was formed and did not leave open whether or not that type of decision was best for taxpayers or the school district.

Much of our districts school building problems have been the result of a demolition by neglect attitude of a previous administration and BOE members since 2003. Apparently driven by a private agenda to build new buildings. An attitude USD 497 taxpayers can never afford.

In essence our initial tax dollar investments go straight to hell when taxpayer owned property does not receive the attention and care legally expected or required of the admin and the USD 497 BOE.

The following example represents the magnitude by which a demolition by neglect attitude impacts the taxpayers as opposed to maintaining structures as expected:

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Notice the $20 million USD 497 $$$ spent on the PLAY sports project could have rehabilitated all of our elementary school facilities.

When future options are presented to USD 497 taxpayers, the option of spending annual capital outlay funds over a 3-5 year period as opposed to a another bond issue or increasing USD 497 taxes should be among them

In fact it would be quite thoughtful for this BOE to take steps that would never again allow millions upon millions upon millions of USD 497 tax dollars to be spent without USD 497 taxpayer approval. I reference the reckless spending on the most recent PLAY sports project.

Let the voters decide whether or not they want to be reckless.

Respectfully, Merrill the taxpayer.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 11 months ago

And what happens if the district runs out of funds before a building is finished? We have a partially under construction school that may or may not be fit to use? I'll admit that I wasn't here for previous bonds, but I would much rather see a bond with sufficient funds to finish repairs in a timely manner (the district would have to produce said plans to the taxpayers) rather than using the money we have to do repairs in an undetermined amount of time. I've gone to a school where they started a remodeling project that took most of my time there as a student to complete. It's a hassle for staff and students to go without such things as a library or gym because of delays in repairs.

RoeDapple 5 years, 11 months ago

"Our founding fathers wanted to insure Democracy for our country." - merrill

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!" - Benjamin Franklin

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself." - John Adams

Zephaniah Swift distinguished real democracy as a government by the people, from a government of representatives who are not governed by the people merely elected by the people.

Kookamooka 5 years, 11 months ago

The conversation isn't over. I think they were smart to wait for the legislature to settle out their funding before making any LONG TERM decisions that could cripple the taxpayers of this community.

BTW Lawrence is trying to become a retirement mecca. Old citizens don't like paying taxes to educate young people. It's harsh but they just don't. They don't support bond issues for schools. USD497 will NOT be able to pass a bond in this town for a long, long, time. Other funding sources need to be found.

irvan moore 5 years, 11 months ago

us old people don't mind paying taxes to educate young people, we mind paying taxes to build 2 sports meccas when one would do the job, we mind paying for bad decisions by the school boards and administration, we mind exorbitant saliaries for top administrators who are fiscally irresponsible as stewards of the taxpayers money. ah heck, maybe i am just a grouchy old man

Flap Doodle 5 years, 11 months ago

In the former Soviet Union, little children can only copy/paste once a week because decadent planet-killers are using up all the copy/paste particles on this award-winning website.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 11 months ago

In former Soviet Union, children don't cut/paste articles; articles cut/paste children.

Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 11 months ago

Now that the school board has established that the small school model is the preferred one, I look forward to Merrill and others supporting a bond issue to construct small elementary schools to replace the large ones which exist in west Lawrence.

Clevercowgirl 5 years, 11 months ago

The amount of time spent on this is beyond comprehension. Two task forces comprised of a total of what, 40 volunteers? The first one was fed false information, told to ignore factors that would lead to a well thought out conclusion, and then pressured and coerced into endorsing a predetermined "consensus". The second task force went rogue and with the help of the current board, came to the conclusion that should have been arrived at to start with. How many hours have been spent on this, between board members, citizens, administration, parents, teachers, experts....... What a massive misuse of resources. I wonder what could be accomplished if these hours were spent towards better educating our students?

I hope that the board can now find the courage to clean house at the ESDC, and put in place an administration that will focus on success for our students, bring the community together to help in this goal, and bring our district back to it's former level of excellence. The" Ministry of Mediocrity" needs to go.

dshew 5 years, 11 months ago

As someone who served on the second task force, we did not "go rogue." FAR from it. We tried to honor the charge we were given.

We worked for over six months.

Two weeks before we were to finish, after vicious meetings, hours of research, and threats from members of the community, a member of the committee finally emailed the board and asked them a) if the charge still stood, b) if they had any intention of voting for consolidation, regardless of the task force's outcome. All but one responded. And four said they planned to NOT vote for consolidation, before seeing any report out of the group.

It was at that point that the half of the group who had always been against consolidation, and the other half group who saw reasons that it could be necessary/recommended, split. And those were the reports that were submitted.

We spent over six months, no, WASTED six months of our time for a board that had NO intention of voting for consolidation-- the votes were never there. But rather than say that, outright, they allowed us to not only toil in vain but tear each other apart in the process.

No part of this blame rests with the task force. All of us, for or against consolidation, worked hard to respect the Lawrence community, the needs of our teachers and staff, and most of all, the children of Lawrence.

Synjyn Smythe 5 years, 11 months ago

To whom is this news? Totally predictable vote.

aryastark1984 5 years, 11 months ago

As someone with a child in elementary school, I want to make a point. The majority (4) of the current board had nothing to do with the sports facilities. However, they have been saddled with the distrust and baggage from the past board.

What the past boards did bordered on criminal neglect of the elementary schools. Even the newer elementary schools have structural and electrical problems. Merrill calls the past board's approach "demolition by neglect." As a community WE MUST fix these schools before the roof literally falls in on someone's child.

The current board did all of us a financial favor in that they mad the prudent decision to fix what we have rather than build new. I would advocate for a "trust but verify" approach. The current board needs to fix what they can with their capital outlay fund (and they are doing that). However, the reality is that a bond will be necessary to make all of the improvements to our schools. Demand that they write a bond with little wiggle room. Demand that they be prudent. But, for heavens sake, don't punish K-5 children for the sins of the prior boards.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 11 months ago

While I believe in the sentiments of Clevercowgirl, I am jaded enough to believe that our schools will never have the leadership required to do the difficult things: reduce/eliminate sports to support the classroom.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Stop electing chamber of commerce thinkers to the school board = don't elect Mark Bradford again.

This crap has been going on since 2003. Meanwhile taxpayer properties are neglected while the real estate executives/industry manipulate the process. After all they are the Chamber of Commerce.

The PLAY project is a Chamber of Commerce project. Yet USD 497 forked over $20 million USD 497 tax dollars which is only the tip of the ice berg.

The new high dollar so called rec center is PLAY all the way. It does add expenses to the budgets forever.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

The new board members have not contributed any reckless spending as yet.

Shannon Kimball does concern me.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 11 months ago

Start the budget cuts now. Don't assume a bond will pass.

buffalo63 5 years, 11 months ago

For me to even think about supporting a bond issue, there has to be a forward thinking, long range plan, as Ms White asked last night. I don't think this administration is capable of doing that. A plan that most could agree to comes first, then a bond issue that actually spends the money for that plan. Not like the 2 million "left over" from South Junior (Middle) school rebuild that could only be spent on secondary (read sports "practice" fields).

Clevercowgirl 5 years, 11 months ago

Or the money that should have been spent on the Broken Arrow remodel, which pretty much ends 20 feet into the building.

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