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Opinion

Opinion

Time to choose

It’s time for the Lawrence school board to set a direction for the district on elementary school consolidation.

April 9, 2012

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Someone, either on the Lawrence school board or in the district’s administrative offices, has decided to call the question on elementary school consolidation.

Tonight’s school board agenda includes an item labeled “Approval of Recommendation for Elementary Schools.” Here’s the recommendation up for consideration: “The administration recommends that the Board of Education decide the consolidation issue so the district can move forward toward a possible bond election in 2013.” It’s a pretty big decision. Does the administration have a recommendation on whether to pursue consolidation?

Next on the agenda are two suggested motions for school board members to consider. (As an aside, while it’s routine for Lawrence school administrators to suggest motions on agenda items, it seems a little insulting. Are the board members not smart enough to craft their own motions?) Anyway, the two motion options are: “I move that Lawrence Public Schools keep current elementary schools open,” or “I move that the Board of Education authorize the administration to recommend further consolidation of elementary schools.”

That’s the multimillion-dollar question that school board members need to answer.

Background information in the agenda notes that the board voted in 2010 to combine the East Heights Early Childhood Center with Kennedy School, then charged a community task force to study consolidation. Acting on that group’s recommendation, the board closed Wakarusa Valley School last fall and formed another working group charged with coming up with a plan to consolidate six central-city elementary schools into three or four schools. The final report issued by that group about six weeks ago offered a consensus on only one issue: A bond issue is necessary to make repairs and additions to existing schools. The group offered no plan for consolidating schools.

So the ball is back in the school board’s court.

Four new members joined the seven-member board last June, and their commitment to school consolidation appears less solid than that of their predecessors. Consolidation almost certainly would involve more than simply closing a school or two and dispersing those students to other buildings. The likely scenario would be for the district to build a new school or make major expansions to an existing school to facilitate consolidation. That’s where the bond issue comes in.

At this point, board members need to look at a number of factors. Enrollment projections supplied to the working group predicted a 4.8 percent increase in elementary enrollment by the 2016-17 school year. Is that realistic given Lawrence’s overall stagnant growth? If the goal of consolidation is to improve efficiency and perhaps save the district money, how long will it take to recoup the investment of a major bond issue to build and repair schools? And how likely is it that a bond issue would pass in the current economy?

Perhaps the biggest question mark is hanging over Topeka right now. Whether or not the Legislature approves major school finance changes proposed by Gov. Brownback this year, the state of school finance clearly is in flux and probably will remain so for the next several years.

No one said the answers would be easy, but at least the questions are back on the school board’s table, where they belong, not with a volunteer group struggling to figure out which direction the school board and administration want to go.

So which will it be, school board? Motion 1 or Motion 2?

Comments

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

USD 497 would have a tough time passing a bond issue. It has no credibility after using money from the last bond issue for sports complexes instead of facilities. Some of the repairs really needed to happen. Not fixing a leaky roof? No sirree. No credibility. And, I doubt the voters would approve a bond issue in this economy, anyway.

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WilburM 2 years ago

Absent any clear, convincing, specific reasoning that demonstrates why closing any school right now would be a good idea, the answer is simple: "Just say 'no.'"

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Kookamooka 2 years ago

With fuel prices escalating the costs associated with bussing will rise. I don't see how enormous elementary schools are a good thing. I think they were popular during the boom with developers eager to build new neighborhoods full of overpriced putty palaces. Those days are gone. USD 497 is just catching up to the old fashioned notion of the 21 C. Megamentary. The Giant elementary school will be a dinosaur and the new model for the future will be the retro neighborhood school model which we already have in place. It's a model that is thriving if only the structures were maintained. Educated citizens want personalized, community schools where kids don't get lost or feel like a number in a knowledge factory. Parents don't want their children to "slip through the cracks" which is something I saw happen all of the time in Desoto at their Megamentaries. Closing the achievement gap doesn't happen when 700 students pack into one building. Lawrence should be proud of the neighborhood schools they have and do everything they can to maintain them.

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Richard Heckler 2 years 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.

  • more children can walk and bike to school = safe,healthy and free

  • the potential of homes losing 10% in property value due to the closing of a neighborhood school can be avoided

Again 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. Inflated real estate values is STILL causing foreclosures.

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Richard Heckler 2 years 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.

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

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 http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/oct/how_should_school_district_pay_20_million_maintena/

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 suggested $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 http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

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Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Isn't the elected BOE the body that gives direction not the administration?

Here's another proposal:

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-5 year period with current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

USD 497 taxpayers need to think of nurturing our teachers which has not been adequately addressed in some years. Some kind of a pay increase method may need to be a matter for consideration should the legislature open those doors.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

We don't need two tax increases. If any tax increase presents itself it should be applied to salaries. This demonstrates the exercise of good judgment and/or common sense… can we say prudent?

Don't forget USD has more than $20 million USD 497 tax dollars on the table for the ill conceived sports project. That $20 million couldn’t have been spent at a worst time. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. Knowing how to nurture tax dollars is an art.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.

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