Archive for Sunday, February 5, 2012

Time winding down for working group’s school consolidation recommendations

February 5, 2012


Time is about to be up for a group of community members who have been tasked to decided which of Lawrence’s elementary schools should close.

The Lawrence school board last year appointed the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. Members were to recommend a way to reduce six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to three or four within the next two years.

The deadline for the recommendation, which has already been extended once, is Feb. 15. As the day inches closer, it’s not clear what the recommendation will look like or if members will ask for more time.

“At this point, it’s getting the data and really needing to look at it and really seeing what it says,” Hillcrest parent Leslie Newman said.

The group is scheduled to meet two more times before Feb. 15. At a Jan. 30 meeting, Superintendent Rick Doll indicated that there could be room for one more meeting between the Feb. 15 deadline and the school board’s next meeting Feb. 27.

The past few meetings have been focused on reviewing consolidation scenarios that were created by groups representing each of the six schools. Last Monday, consultants from RSP presented maps for three of seven scenarios. Those maps showed how the boundary lines and school population would change for almost every elementary school in the district when just one school closes.

The district is paying the consultants $6,000 to study five scenarios. The other scenarios won’t be ready in time for the working group to examine them at the next meeting on Monday night. But consultants from Gould Evans will have information on the capacity of each of the six school sites.

Chuck Epp, a Cordley parent, said if they can get the information from the consultants in time, he believes the group will be able to make a recommendation.

“I think we can get through the work and generate a report. But if they aren’t able to get it to us in a timely manner, then we will have to ask for an extension,” Epp said.

Earlier in the process, the working group decided a consensus would be reached if all but five of the 24 members voted in favor of a recommendation. Essentially that means for a recommendation to pass, only one of the school groups and another voting member could oppose it. Stacey White, a Pinckney representative, doesn’t see one proposal garnering that much support.

“My sense is that we probably won’t have consensus on any one idea, but I do think there will be some ideas that have strong support from many members of the group,” she wrote in an email.

A lack of consensus doesn’t preclude a recommendation, White said.

“The best we can hope for might be that we present several different ideas and show how much agreement there was for those ideas within the group,” she wrote.

Early in the process, New York parent Mike Myers said it appeared the group was heading toward the scenario of consolidating New York and Kennedy and building a new school. The two schools have the district’s highest population of students from low-income households.

“My guess is early on there was some thought that it would be an easy solution to make the poor side of town do the heavy lifting,” Myers said. “But I don’t see it turning out that way.”

Myers also sees some members moving toward the recommendation of not closing any school, which goes against their mission.

No consolidation needed?

A group of parents who aren’t in the working group but represent four of the six schools up for consolidation has asked the school board to reconsider the charge it gave to the working group. They say new information about enrollment, class sizes and cost savings point to the benefits of not consolidating schools.

Among their concerns is data showing the schools are at 86 percent capacity and will be at 90 percent capacity in five years.

They also point to the increase in class sizes in the schools that would receive new students. And they note that five of the six schools being considered for consolidation have significant populations of at-risk students, which are best taught in smaller classes.

“Anybody who has followed the process knows if you close a school, there are implications well beyond it,” Epp said. “For example, when Wakarusa Valley closed, class sizes from the schools that received Wakarusa Valley students went up dramatically.”

Those arguments haven’t convinced White to reject the charge. During the process, White said she made the painful realization that consolidating schools was more about correcting a long-term trend than solving a short-term budget crisis.

“My personal opinion is that this consolidation issue was never about capacity alone. It’s driven by the fact that some of our schools, full or not, are pretty small and the fact that the budget perennially runs short. As a result, schools and children aren’t getting the resources they need,” she wrote in an email. By having students attend larger schools, she said, the schools will be more likely to provide full-time nurses, counselors and librarians.

White said she doesn’t want to have the same conversation about closing schools five years from now.

“We’d much rather come up with a solution that is sustainable for the district,” she wrote.


Wayne Propst 6 years, 4 months ago

Walkable neighborhoods sell houses......It's 2012... white townships with granite counter-tops are over...we should be creating smaller schools....Administrators sound like they went to Devonshire University........

JackMcKee 6 years, 4 months ago

when reality catches up to your fantasy it's going to be double rainbows forever!

wolfy 6 years, 4 months ago

Wake up LJW! The presumed benefits of consolidating (closing) schools are saving taxpayer money, creating fiscal efficiencies, and allowing for curricular improvements. I challenge the district to come up with ANY empirical evidence that says this is true. Instead of covering this issue like it's a horse race, the Journal World needs to do some real investigative reporting. How about starting with an evaluation of how the district's most recent consolidation out south is going? We deserve better, Lawrence.

spiderd 6 years, 4 months ago

In reading White's comments, one would assume that the ideas from the Pinckney group involve at least one sceario that involves the Pinckney school community making a sacrifice. One would be wrong of course which makes both her and this group in general hard to take seriously.

wolfy 6 years, 4 months ago

The working group members are great; it's the process that is broken. Over time the district has managed to shrink the universe of "thinkable thought" to limit public discourse to consolidation (closing schools). It set up task forces and working groups, and hired independent consultants, to give them political cover. Then it employed a cynical divide-and-conquer strategy so that schools would cannibalize one another. Let's reject the district's narrow vision for our children and our communities and create a new vision that serves the broad public interest.

LadyJ 6 years, 4 months ago

From an earlier post I made on another article, I'm still wondering about it..... "Prairie Park school is "far below" capacity. Didn't there use to be two smaller schools in that area that were closed down. Wonder when they were closed and Prairie Park built? Hope we don't end up with the same scenario in east Lawrence." We need to look at why Prairie Park is far below capacity and how much that is costing taxpayers.

FormerTiger 6 years, 4 months ago

" It’s driven by the fact that some of our schools, full or not, are pretty small and the fact that the budget perennially runs short."

Actually, look at the accounting over the past few years, Ms. White - there's money, the district has been putting it in a rainy day fund for years rather than fix up their elementary schools. Then tried to sell the "budget crisis" as the reason to close schools. They've moved money from the operating budget into the rainy day fund at the end of each school year. Oh, and whatever happened with the mysterious Materials Fund????

Kookamooka 6 years, 4 months ago

I agree that someone needs to investigate this more closely. I've always thought there was someone on the inside of school district politics encouraging the upper level administrators to make decisions that benefit developers.

Mike Myers 6 years, 4 months ago

Not sure about any conspiracy there but big new schools and urban sprawl have always gone together. That model can't be used as a comparison with core neighborhood schools on small lots. Until we all come together and value the differences by instituting policy, core schools will always be seen as 'inefficient' and will be targeted by bureaucrats for consolidation. There is simply no basis for equitable comparison between the two models. We must as a city begin to institute policy which encourages infill development and strength of the core over sprawl. To be a healthy city with healthy neighborhoods and schools we must balance growth with sustainable infill and upkeep of the core. Not closing schools is a hell of a good place to start fostering healthy neighborhoods.

FormerTiger 6 years, 4 months ago

Here's an interesting read - and research based from the National Education Policy Center. Has our SB or administration read it?

wolfy 6 years, 4 months ago

Very interesting indeed, Former Tiger. Has the district been cherry-picking research? Doesn't that call into question all the data they've supplied, too? Still waiting to see the district's data and analysis on the impacts of the Wakarusa "consolidation". Past performance is the best indicator of future results.

William Ed 6 years, 4 months ago

What is the problem? The school district "suddenly" discovered $3.2 Million laying around last June, BUT it seems to have evaporated (Houdini did it.), now with another unmentioned and unallocated $10 Million sitting in the facility fund with more to come, especially when the current bond is paid off, what is the funding problem? Is Brownback right? Do the schools have too much money.. or are we just not managing it? Maybe we should not close any schools and reopen Centennial and Wakarusa. Now there's a thought. Has the "Let's close a school group" considered that?

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