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.