Archive for Monday, February 6, 2012

School consolidation working group renews resolve for mission

Six Lawrence elementary schools are being considered for consolidation. They are, clockwise from left, Sunset Hill, Kennedy, Hillcrest, New York, Pinckney and Cordley Elementary.

Six Lawrence elementary schools are being considered for consolidation. They are, clockwise from left, Sunset Hill, Kennedy, Hillcrest, New York, Pinckney and Cordley Elementary.

February 6, 2012

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With time running out before a deadline to make a recommendation to the board, a working group looking at consolidating schools in the Lawrence district decided to press ahead with its original charge on Monday and is still asking for more data.

Related document

Pinckney Revised Proposal ( .PDF )

The Lawrence school board has asked the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group 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.

Superintendent Rick Doll told the group it may want to consider bringing back a recommendation to the board that would only close one school, rather than coming back with no direction at all.

“There have been a number of things that have changed since the charge was given to you,” Doll said. “I don’t sense that we’re on the edge of consensus.”

The group voted on whether it wanted to violate its charge from the board and bring forth a recommendation that would close “less than two” schools.

Twelve members of the group voted in favor, and 15 voted against that idea.

Having already seen three scenarios from educational consultant RSP, the group was scheduled to see four more.

Given the short time frame that RSP would have to generate the information, the group decided to prioritize its request.

Therefore, the group decided to ask RSP to focus on two proposals before considering the others.

Given that all four of the originally asked-for scenarios would only close one school, the group decided it wanted to see additional information on a proposal that would close two schools.

It asked RSP to study a scenario originally proposed by a group representing Pinckney School.

That proposal would consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill at the Sunset Hill site. It would also merge Kennedy and New York either at or near 15th and Haskell streets or at the Kennedy site.

That proposal would also adjust the way English as a Second Language programs are distributed in the district. The complete proposal is available online at usd497.org/consolidation.

The group also asked RSP to prioritize one of its original four outstanding scenarios that would consolidate Hillcrest and Pinckney schools at Hillcrest.

At one point during the meeting, the group decided to hold a vote on whether it should give up and present no recommendation to the board at all. Only one member of the group — Josh Davis, representing New York — voted in favor of that path.

“People are going to come to decisions based on self-interest alone,” he said, adding he felt there was a lack of leadership on this issue from the school board and school superintendent.

But the group decided to press on, hoping to get more data before its deadline hit.

Doll told members of the group that though the official deadline was Feb. 15, they likely had time for two more meetings — on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 — before the board would meet after the deadline on Feb. 27.

The group did not ask for an extension of time beyond that at its meeting Monday.

Comments

Chris Lempa 3 years, 2 months ago

I think it should be noted that Josh Davis received a round of applause from members of the Consolidation Working Group AND observers in the audience when he made his comment.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Consolidations Working Group.<<

ahyland 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for adding that! I meant to, but in the rush of filing the story, that detail got left on the cutting room floor. But I was there and can affirm that it happened like you said.

Andy Hyland LJW Reporter

Chris Lempa 3 years, 2 months ago

Thank you Andy. I appreciate your confirmation. It is very important to the process.

EJ Mulligan 3 years, 2 months ago

Thank you for telling us that. I about wanted to erupt into my own round of applause when I saw this from Mr. Davis:

"adding he felt there was a lack of leadership on this issue from the school board and school superintendent."

School board, you were elected to be leaders and make big (and difficult decisions). Now is the time to lead and decide. Don't wait any longer.

Mike Myers 3 years, 2 months ago

That is exactly right. From what I can see this whole thing is absurd. The board should have made a task force to gather information rather than create consolidation scenarios. The only thing this group can do is either reject the charge because it is short-sighted and stupid or offer consolidation scenarios that promote their own self-interests. The whole folly was ill-concieved and divisive. In the best interest of the city it is time for the board to intervene before more damage is done.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

Yes. As Doll correctly noted, A LOT has happened since this group was given this charge. It is not surprising that they are having trouble reaching consensus on an impossible charge.

Synjyn Smythe 3 years, 2 months ago

What? How dare you suggest that Doll earn his paycheck! How dare you suggest that an elected school board actually make the decisions they were elected to make!

irvan moore 3 years, 2 months ago

it's to bad one of the options is not to close down the administrative offices, how in the world can the members of this working group not see how they are going to get stuck with the blame for what will turn out to be a horrible mistake.

wolfy 3 years, 2 months ago

Who cares if we have no clear idea where we are going. What matters is that we are reaching consensus on the path we want to take to get there. The new school board has dutifully accepted its “consolidation” marching orders from the old board. Central and eastside schools have selflessly agreed to sacrifice at least two of their own on the altar of progress. And, with the clock winding down, there is one detailed consolidation plan now on the table for consideration. With so much consensus in the air, why wait? Let the consultants do a quick run of the numbers. Let the school board take a perfunctory vote. Let the capital campaign begin. And let the chips fall where they may.

EllaAsks 3 years, 2 months ago

Whoever you are Josh, Amen buddy! I'm beginning to think that this "close schools" trumpeting has been sounded by developers who want to build new shiny schools. The district has brought in experts and consultants in RSP and Gould who have produced very little that anyone can work with. Where are the real cost estimates? Why hasn't the public seen them? Where is the study about the REAL savings from closing Wakarusa, and what the district did what whatever savings there MIGHT be? Why hasn't there been so much as an in-depth LJW article about the real life effects on Wakarusa and Sunflower kids? Seems like the consultants and district are doing all of this with a wink and a nod to the interests they represent: suburban growth, new building, and whatever Pinkney wants.

CharlieDunn 3 years, 2 months ago

So wait, GOULD EVANS was brought in as a "consultant"?? Since when do you EVER hire a firm to give a group information, when they are most likely the firm that will do the work? I'm no lawyer, but I have been in business long enough to know that is a conflict of interest. Check out what they do.They get paid to BUILD. www.gouldevans.com.

This is really serious. Whatever they presented should be considered nothing more than a sales pitch, because that's what it amounts to.

Either the district and working group should scrap all the info Gould gave them, or Gould should be barred from being hired for any new construction.

PJenkins 3 years, 2 months ago

Charlie Dunn is spot on. I'm in marketing. Boiled down, we go to companies, present information and hope they decide to hire us to act on that information. Unless Gould Evans excused themselves from future bids to build, the working group appears to have been fleeced.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

Talk about fleece jobs...

USD 497 pays $1.73 million for new uninproved land. This became a tax increase the moment USD 497 took ownership. How can Lawrence afford another tax increase from USD 497? http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/dec...

Community indicated not interested in expensive athletic project. Why did USD 497 do this in tight economic times? = another tax increase http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/may/should_city_spend_20_million_or_more_play_project/

So I hear USD 497 can afford to keep all schools open. They wonder id it good use of tax dollars. I say yes. . Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on 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. Apparently the admin and some board members think Lawrence taxpayers will be easier in two years.

I sat work out the budget and let's fix the taxpayers property instead of continuing down the road to negligence.

USD 497 taxpayers own a building at 15th and Haskell. Make use of it. USD 497 cannot afford to give away $$$7 - $$$10 million dollars in real estate.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 2 months ago

"I sat work out the budget..." That's a mental image I'd rather not have.

Melissa Isaacs 3 years, 2 months ago

Why have these meetings not been televised? USD 497 has a whole channel all its own on basic cable, and all they run are school lunch menus and awards ceremonies.

Synjyn Smythe 3 years, 2 months ago

I seem to recall that the idea to "consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill at the Sunset Hill site" & "merge Kennedy and New York either at or near 15th and Haskell streets or at the Kennedy site" is the original solution Ms. Hack suggested during the last process. It is a wise suggestion. However, any solution that does not include closing Cordley is incomplete. It will ultimately cost so much to bring Cordley up to snuff that it'd be cheaper in the long run to crash it and build another school that will accomodate those students with Kennedy & New York! The only thing keep Cordley open is SONS, not logic or reason.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

The only people who think these are good ideas are ones that are not familiar with the details. All of these scenarios would end up costing the district more in operating costs than they are currently spending. Hillcrest and Cordley are ESL cluster sites. Cluster sites are cost-efficient. Kennedy and New York have the highest % of kids who qualify for free and reduced price lunches AND Kennedy has the Early Childhood program. Add their population together and the additional support staff to support these kids eats up all your cost savings.

GardenMomma 3 years, 2 months ago

The optimal ratio of ESL to native English-speakers is 50%. Hillcrest has 75% ESL students. That's three ESL students for every native English-speaker. How is that optimal? Part of the idea behind ESL is total immersion. ESL students learn more English by being surrounded by English speaking children.

GardenMomma 3 years, 2 months ago

Pardon me!  I was reading up on ESL and bi-lingual programs.  I found that the ideal ratio for a bi-lingual program is 50/50.  Granted USD 497 may use a different model.

I stand corrected on the ratio of ESL students at Hillcrest. But I would like to point out that Cordley (also a cluster site) only has 22% ESL ratio. Why such a disparity between the cluster sites? Schwegler has 19% ESL ratio.

You didn't have to be so rude! Also, don't assume I want to close schools. You don't know me.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

It is good that you are reading about these things. But, be careful that what you are reading maps onto the ESL population in Lawrence. The ESL population at Hillcrest is a polyglot. I won't bother to list all the different languages spoken by kids there, but suffice it to say that the only common language is English. Hillcrest is both big enough that if you are new to this country, you can probably find a friend from your home country, but also big enough that you must learn English to get by.

As to why there is such a disparity in the ESL population between Hillcrest and the other schools, there are probably several reasons. First and foremost, Hillcrest has been doing it longer than the other schools. My understanding is that for a long time it was the only school in the district to offer ESL education. As a result of the experience and history, there are a lot of really skilled ESL teachers at Hillcrest and they have learned to work well with the school's diverse population.

maudeandcecil 3 years, 2 months ago

Cordley’s deferred maintenance is about 1.8 million; I agree it’s a lot. $900,000 is to replace the 90 year old boiler on the older section of the facility and approximately $300,000 is to make the older portion of the building handicap accessible, which Cordley staff has requested for a least 30 years. For comparison sake, the cost of Lawrence’s new athletic facilities is about 15 million and the cost of a new elementary building is approximately 18 million. To my way of thinking, investing 1.8 million to use the building for another 100 years is a responsible & affordable option.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

Well said. And I would add that we could probably do ALL of the deferred maintenance in the district for the cost of a new school.

irvan moore 3 years, 2 months ago

what happened to the new school board memebers that were going to make a difference

wolfy 3 years, 2 months ago

Well, I guess we'll all see precisely where the swing vote stands, won't we. Has anyone caught any signals from her yet?

EllaAsks 3 years, 2 months ago

SynJyn - Do you actually know that it would be cheaper to plow over a school and build a new one for to house three schools in one? Does anyone know that? Pay for new land, build a new school - where are the numbers? What happens to the abandoned facilities? How much do they cost to keep up until there is a new use? What are the effects of a mega school on the STUDENTS? Does that matter?

Everyone, including the consultants, are talking in broad generalities, pushing their own agendas. It baffles me that we are not starting with - what is the best learning environment for our kids? Research says undoubtedly that it is smaller schools. We have small schools that can be fixed using the money that was budgeted to fix them, but has been deferred. There is NO demonstrated savings in consolidating and building new schools, and the definitely is no evidence that it is best for kids. I dare the district to analyze Wakarusa's closing - I can't BELIEVE that hasn't been done - and see how that went!

CharlieDunn 3 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone else feel like there is an underlying agenda here? Consider: Closing schools and consolidating means more business for developers and builders. It also snatches the centers of established, cohesive neighborhoods and flings them further out. OUT, where people want to build and develop. It centralizes people and traffic in bigger numbers. More traffic = more need for stores, more building. Maybe we do need that new Lowe's. Maybe Walmart at 6&Wak could be twice as big. Maybe we do need more housing out west (which is not projected to grow as quickly as the east). We take info the district feeds us, look at sketchy numbers provided by architects (Gould) and say - what else can we do?

Forenza 3 years, 2 months ago

My family and I just move here. We happen to rent on the west side, which I am glad for because we like the school we are in. I am very glad we did not buy on east side because schools might close. I would be upset if I were a home owner east sider right now.

irvan moore 3 years, 2 months ago

the school board does not care about neighborhoods

wolfy 3 years, 2 months ago

Exactly. And that is testament to how broken things are right now. School administration and local government officials should be REQUIRED by law to coordinate their efforts when it comes to capital improvements. Take a look at the city's land use plan sometime--it is utterly incompatible with the direction in which the school board is trying to push us. And you wonder why people are so cynical about government.

EllaAsks 3 years, 2 months ago

Forenza, wake up!

Unless you are Woodlawn (north of the river) or Langston Hughes, your school will be changed by school closure. One or two school closures clear out east means boundary changes - students being added AND taken away - for TEN to TWELVE elementary schools. This is exactly what the RSP consultants the district has brought in have shown. That's almost every single school in Lawrence. All to solve a "problem" that still has not been show to even exist. What the heck are we doing here?

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 2 months ago

There are a lot of good comments on this post. but I just want to mention that the six-photo school photograph at the top of the page is tremendous! I don't know who took all these photos, but they fit very well together, in addition to the writing.

We need more information than is presently GIVEN TO US (Note that GIVEN). EllaAsks, especially, has some very good points.

Steve Bunch 3 years, 2 months ago

Having served on a similar task force a few decades ago, I can say that nothing has changed. Neighborhood schools are a myth and in any case neighborhood schools will not provide equal opportunities to students until the neighborhoods are socio-economically integrated, which isn't likely to happen in our lifetime. I make these observations as a parent who had kids at both New York and Hillcrest and saw the opportunities available at one but not the other. And please note, I said "socio-economically," which does not necessarily mean integration by skin pigmentation.

Mike Myers 3 years, 2 months ago

I think you are wrong. If you take the time to look around the east side today you would find all kinds of people on many socioeconomic strata. We've got teachers, lawyers, engineers, architects, restaurant owners, district attorneys, county clerks, artists, you name it. We're more "integrated" than any other part of the city.

Steve Bunch 3 years, 2 months ago

That was less the case when I lived on the east side 1976-87. I haven't seen the school lunch program statistics in a while, but I'd guess New York is still one of several schools where the number is disproportionately high. Perhaps someone here can provide that data. I know it used to be one of the metrics used in evaluating the schools.

spiderd 3 years, 2 months ago

You are for the most part correct Alf. There continues to be a high number of children (families) at New York and Kennedy that qualify for free and reduced lunch. But Toto is correct as well, there are a lot of different types of people that are choosing to move to and invest in these core neighborhoods.

EllaAsks 3 years, 2 months ago

AlfVenison -

Do you think children from lower income schools would do better if moved to a larger school of where there is more socio-economic diversity? Doubtful and research shows the opposite. The smaller the school, not just the classroom size but the school, the better children do. The more targeted services available, the better staff are equipped to recognize and meet needs. Less chance of getting lost in the shuffle of 450 kids. Neighborhood schools are not a myth. They exist! and they smaller with more built in support systems. So unless you're talking about bussing Langston Hughes kids over to New York to socio-economically integrate them, small neighborhood schools are the best bet and are what we have right now. Parents with lower incomes are also more involved in schools that are smaller and closer to their home, and parental involvement in an undisputed factor in a student's success.

Steve Bunch 3 years, 2 months ago

When I was active at New York, which was on the chopping block periodically, there was little parental involvement, primarily because parental involvement is an upper middle class thing (speaking generally). That "neighborhood" school had part-time nurse, librarian, and other support services, because school financing is done by head count. I went to the city commission to ask for community development funds to buy library books. Larger schools give critical mass for services and funding. And by the way, there's no reason a larger school can't still have smaller class sizes. Parents bring the intangibles to building a school, and when I moved to a "middle class" neighborhood (Hillcrest), I immediately saw the difference in parent volunteers, fundraising, etc. I hate to generalize, but I found that parents in the lower socioeconomic neighborhood probably didn't have good school experiences as children. They didn't feel comfortable participating in their children's school, nor did they have the resources (time and money) to participate. This isn't an easy issue, but I bridle at the "neighborhood school" argument.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

There is value in both small schools and small class sizes. There is value in neighborhood schools like NY (and the others) and there is value in a school like Hillcrest, which is both a neighborhood school AND a community school. We need to stop trying to make all our schools over into a single model and start asking a more important question. Why do we underfund elementary schools?

Elementary students are the largest group of kids (relative to middle and high school) and have the lowest per pupil funding, BY FAR. That is right. The district spends less on the most expensive elementary school kid than any kid in middle or high school. The idea that we need to make elementary school education cheaper is a travesty.

DoltSimons 3 years, 2 months ago

We moved from Lawrence 12 years ago. The big story was "Which schools should we close" every time I turned around. Some things never change.

KrampusLawrence 3 years, 2 months ago

Someone from McDonald Drive really needs to explain this push for consolidation. The stated goal is efficiency, but what the administration seems to mean is some vague concept of economic efficiency. Most people would agree that we need to spend tax dollars efficiently, but this conversation about efficiency is lacking a real conversation regarding education. We are being led to believe that it is a smart idea to close two or three schools so that one or two larger school MIGHT get a full time nurse and/or librarian and/or social worker and/or "Specials" teachers.

Remember, the students are not guaranteed any of those things. But don't worry, the district is already working on using the money saved by closing east side schools to institute full day kindergarten at Langston Hughes. Where I'm from that is a reallocation of funds.

Maybe the next step will be to move the early childhood programs out west as well. Based on RSP's enrollment projections there will be "excess capacity" in the western schools. Whatever schools remain in the East Side will be overcapacity due to the "regreening" that is projected to take place in the urban core.

EllaAsks 3 years, 2 months ago

AlfVenison,

Point well taken and I admire your involvement and commitment to your schools. Anything this complex as cannot be simplified with a “this vs that” (neighborhood school vs consolidated 450 +). The trouble is, that is what the district has done. The community has seen quick decisions made based on very little real information and no follow-up on the ramifications, like Wakarusa closing. The district has created a panic claiming fiscal disasters that have yet to be demonstrated. They’ve pushed forth an agenda to close 1-4 schools and fed the consolidation working group what they want them to see. This crazy process is politically driven and not at all fact or data based. In fact, the working group has been told repeated that they can’t get all the information they have requested in time for their report to be due. The only numbers that have been presented are nebulous at best and come with many corrections and asterisks.

You’ve identified more real problems in the schools in your one comment that the district and board has in its years of war cry to close schools. What do the lower SES schools lack and why? What can be done about it? Is the financing method flawed? What can our community do to support better support all schools and children? These are questions that aren’t even being posed.

If it makes sense to consolidate schools, that discussion should involve neutral parties that won’t benefit from consolidation. It should involve planners, parents, numbers, research. Not ill-defined information that a group of equally invested parents are asked to make recommendations from. Any recommendation from this group is naturally fraught with some coalition building, self-preservation and political pressure. Not a sound method. The whole working group should be thanked for the extraordinary amount of time and commitment they’ve invested, and then it should not put forth a recommendation – admit that their task is impossible given the info available and the charge given.

The discussion has to start over - from what we want our schools to look like, identifying the challenges and strengths, then make careful study to make true progress toward those goals. Not in crisis or in reaction to a decision that the district has already made.

Steve Bunch 3 years, 2 months ago

Ella, we have some common ground. One problem, from my admittedly jaundiced perspective, is that the administration tends to jump at the latest "research" from schools of education. We've seen curriculum, capital outlays, support services, and virtually everything else whipsawed from one ed school trend to another. Schools of education are kind of like schools of theology--disciplines based on high level abstractions for which no real research can be brought to bear. If you want an Ed.D., you conduct a survey, draw some conclusions, and launch it into the turbid waters of public education. And of course the whole bailiwick of public education is political. I don't say this as criticism of our school board. These people have a thankless job. Some have an agenda, but most only want to serve. I believe in public schools, but it's discouraging.

PJenkins 3 years, 2 months ago

It is my understanding that several offshoots of the group have been working the real-world costs associated with the charge given by the district: closing schools, redrawing ten or more school boundaries, and expanding and/or building schools as necessary to take in the students of the closed schools. It sounds as if the numbers show that there is NO cost savings and that the projected cost of expansions and new building would be high enough to result in the need for another bond issue. Can anyone elaborate? If that is true, what exactly is it this group is supposed to be resolving? I ask this sincerely - please advise.

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

If you are feeling up to navigating the district website, you can find the cost projections for the proposed NY-Cordley and NY-Kennedy consolidations. These financial projections were put together by the Cordley people, but Doll essentially said that their numbers were right. The upshot is that you can save a substantial amount of money if you are willing to fire teachers and have larger class sizes. However, if you want to maintain smaller class sizes, the cost savings are actually minimal. And, this doesn't take into account some other costs that are harder to foresee (the law of unintended consequences). And, it doesn't take into account costs associated with the boundary changes. So, the reality is it is unclear whether there would be any savings at all.

It has also been estimated that a new school would cost in the 15-18 million range and that doesn't include the costs of repairs to the schools that you did not consolidate. So, clearly you would need to pass a multimillion dollar bond to build a new school. You might need to pass a bond to repair existing schools-they have all been shamefully neglected for a long time. But, the cost of these improvements would probably be less than one new school.

What I want to know is why the LJW has not talked to the current board about where they stand on this issue. The current school board is NOT THE SAME board that started this process. My guess is that many of those currently on the board care deeply about the quality of elementary education and also care about educational quality for at-risk kids. It would be interesting to hear where they stand.

KrampusLawrence 3 years, 2 months ago

What I want to know is why the LJW has not talked to the current board about where they stand on this issue.<<<

The Journal World fired their reporter who covered the school district. A reporter who had been reporting Lawrence news for nearly 20 years.

songbird 3 years, 2 months ago

I sure miss Mark Fagan - he would be asking the hard questions, he had a wealth of knowledge regarding the school consolidation issue. This is such a critical time for in depth reporting. We need daily stories regarding potential consolidation. Reporting on the views of our newest board members, questioning whether Gould Evans should be excluded from any future bids, reporting in depth on the RSP maps (and the effects on all schools, many boundary changes), following up on the Wakarusa transition and any savings realized and how those savings were spent. So many great story ideas from the people commenting above!

aryastark1984 3 years, 2 months ago

I miss Fagan too. He asked the questions that needed to be asked. He was a real life, actual, reporter.

Shame on LJW for laying him off. There is less and less reason to actually buy the paper.

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