Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2012

School board cooling on consolidation plan

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 14, 2012


The majority of Lawrence school board members acknowledge that changes in state funding and enrollment numbers could be enough to persuade them not to shut down any elementary schools.

The school board has charged 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. The group will present its recommendation to the board Feb. 27.

At Monday’s working group meeting, members decided not to recommend what specific schools should close because they said the majority of school board members no longer backed that charge.

School board members Rick Ingram, Keith Diaz Moore, Randy Masten and Vanessa Sanburn all said that circumstances have changed since the working group began meeting in September.

Ingram has been skeptical of the process from the beginning.

“I haven’t seen anything that has reduced that skepticism. In fact, it has been just the opposite. New information has changed things quite a bit,” Ingram said.

This year the school district isn’t expecting to see the same level of cuts from state funding as it did in the recent past, Diaz Moore said. And new population trends show growth in areas of the district where schools could be closed.

“I think what the board needs to do in the overall consolidation issue is to think about long-term plans for facilities,” Diaz Moore said. “We keep addressing the issue in a fairly tactical kind of way.”

Those recent reports also raise questions for Masten.

“Taken all together, it is going to be hard for me to vote for closing or consolidating,” Masten said. But he said he still wants to see what the working group would recommend.

“I know there is between five and seven different options. I would like to see those. I would like to have the working group present the ones that they believe are at least viable,” he said.

Sanburn said she hasn’t fully formed an opinion but would be open to a recommendation that would push for a bond issue that would allow for all of the elementary schools to stay open.

“I think it is important to be mindful of the changes that have happened since the charge was formulated,” Sanburn said.

Not all the board members are ready to pull school consolidations off the table. Shannon Kimball is one of them.

“I have not yet made up my mind. I think there is still information I need before I can make a decision one way or the other,” Kimball said.

While Kimball acknowledged there were small changes in school enrollment data, she said it is not that different from what an early facility task force had used. She also doesn’t see much change in the budget.

“It is no better than what it was a year ago,” she said.

Ingram, Diaz Moore, Kimball and Masten all began serving on the school board in July after wheels for a consolidation working group were set in motion. Sanburn, Mark Bradford and Bob Byers were part of a board that unanimously agreed to form the consolidation working group last spring.

Bradford and Byers could not be reached for comment.


GMom05 6 years ago

The original task-force recommendation was flawed anyway. If these school board members agree that things have changed and that the school closure is wrong; if they agree to disallow the original task force recommendation, then they need to make a stand for full reversal, not just what appears to be the self-serving choice for keeping the central/east side schools open. Broken Arrow and Sunflower are both well over capacity. Within 4 years the predictions are that Broken Arrow will be over capacity by 32%! It's all well and good for the school board members, whose children attend the east side schools to keep their own schools open, but all of our children deserve to keep their community schools open. Or do you have to actually sit on the board to keep your school open? Have any of them considered the impact the closure of Wakarusa Valley has had? Where is this savings? Maybe the rest of the children in USD 497 are seeing the great benefits of that closure, but I can tell you our children's situations have not improved. How low do scores at BA & SF have to get before someone recognizes that overcrowding is impacting the children academically? I invite the school board members to spend a day at both Sunflower & Broken Arrow and see the overcrowded conditions these children have to learn in. Look at Langston too, for that matter. They can never have full day kindergarten with the population they have. Where would you put 4-6 classrooms of kindergartners? You need to look at changing boundaries and relieving some of this pressure. Something has to give on the south and west side. Admit it, closing Wakarusa was as much a mistake as closing these schools currently on the chopping block. Don't tell me it's too late, the school is already closed. That's nonsense. The district still owns that building. Don't compound the mistake by being too stubborn to correct it. The climate has changed, 4 of you didn't even vote for it anyway. Board members, I implore you, our elected officials, and our representatives; please reevaluate everything that came out of the original Elementary Task Force recommendation. Reopen Wakarusa before our children pay the price.

irvan moore 6 years ago

that's a pretty good idea, if the board would revisit the wakarusa closing and put the kids and teachers back in it i think the wakarusa community and the community as a whole would benefit

aryastark1984 6 years ago

I think it is a mistake to blame SONS for this. It was clear at the end of 2010 that Scott Morgan wanted to close Wakarusa. But, the SONS people made it very politically unpopular to do so. The "Task Force" was merely Morgan's "beard" for what he wanted to do in 2010. The "findings" from that group were massaged and manipulated to achieve that goal. If you want to be mad at someone (and I think you have every right to be), be mad at Scott Morgan.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Wakarusa should be reopened for school year 2012-13. Board members, make the decision now. You don't have to admit you made a mistake. Blame it on recently (and thankfully) retired board mambers. We'll all look the other way. In honor of our native state, take a page out of "The Wizard of Oz" and find a heart, a brain, and the courage to reopen Wakarusa Valley School, and do it now.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Why build a new building at 15th and Haskell. There is a building in place aka East Heights.

Unless the previous USD 497 gave $8 million worth of real estate to the boys and girls club.

gseibel 6 years ago

The building at East Heights is not large enough to house an elementary school for various reasons. However, i can't imagine why the district would ever build an entire new building on the southeast corner (forcibly taking properties from very unwilling owners) instead of expanding their existing building. They could get basically the same area by taking a single property to the north of the existing building. Regardless, it is ludicrous to propose spending millions on school construction while closing buildings in order to save thousands on operating costs.

Mike Myers 6 years ago

That isn't actually correct. I believe the operational savings was $400,000 dollars. The Virtual School has its own funding mechanism so I'm not sure your argument holds any water. Good question though about things like maintenance. It would be good to know if the virtual school funding (most of which is from all over the state and beyond) has dollars for snowplows figured in. If you are considering that Wakarusa Valley should be opened back up, the best argument would be based on future residential growth in that area. Opening it back up might just be possible if that growth happens. I'm not personally advocating for more sprawl but if it does happen, then WV probably should open back up.

aryastark1984 6 years ago

A) We didn't "save" any money. We just spent it somewhere else-all day kindergarten for Broken Arrow and Sunflower. B) We will need to spend more money to deal with over crowding at the schools that got the kids from Wakarusa, Sunflower and Broken Arrow. Sunflower is currently over capacity and Broken Arrow will be over capacity next year (I think). As you might expect, class sizes at Broken Arrow and Sunflower have increased. So, we are going to need to change boundaries or add on to both of those schools, AND hire more teachers.

Closing schools has a ripple effect. It damages the kids whose school closes and it increases the class sizes of the schools that absorb those kids.

William Ed 6 years ago

Toto-Next time you go to the county fair, you can play the shell game, that's where the con men scam the rubes. In this case the artists moved the cash cow (VS) to the pasture (Wakarusa) so they could rent the expensive place to the city folks, who then charged the local rubes for going to their classes so they could send the tuition $$$ back to Johnson County. Go figure. See how that works?

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

Sometime ago, consultants recommended closing Broken Arrow. Since then, home ownership has turned over to younger families. Good thing the school was not closed. My point is that decisions to close schools have been hasty and short-sighted. Community/neighborhood schools are better for child development, and they provide cohesiveness to the neighborhoods. Are we busing to preserve diversity or because we tend to neglect some schools? USD 497's plan should be all about the children.

wolfy 6 years ago

We all need to take a deep breath and give the new board an opportunity to earn our trust. The old battle lines have been erased. There's no reason yet to start drawing new ones. If this issue continues to be a political football, we'll never get anywhere.

Bob_Loblaw 6 years ago

Only posting so far I totally agree with 100%.

LarryCarl 6 years ago

They closed our neighbor school down years ago... Nobody seemed to care beyond the people in our neighbor... Now other folks are all fired up with concerns about their schools being closed down... I know what those concerns feel like... and I know what it feels like to not have people who's schools aren't threatened care much about it...

Maybe... eventually... there will be just one huge elementary school out be the lake... They’ll call it “Lawrence Lakeside Liberty Elementary”… and everyone’s kids will be bussed… ~just imagining the majestic yellow ebb and flow~

Deb Engstrom 6 years ago

Probably the best idea I've heard yet.

Clevercowgirl 6 years ago

I wonder if this outcome would have happened if real estate/development had not tanked in Lawrence. AWWW, the cronies built those stadiums, but did not get their land deals/construction contracts in return. I guess King Richard does have as much clout at we thought. Now, on to other necessary items....a new Superintendant maybe? At least we should have one that is concerned about the kids. And one who doesen't get so throuroughly embroiled in political manuevering. Good luck, School Board: I say clean house.

Mike Myers 6 years ago

Wilbur there is no doubt about a bond issue for repairs and additions. It is sorely needed and has been neglected for a long, long time.

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