School consolidation working group won’t pursue specific closings

The school consolidation working group has abandoned its charge to recommend which elementary schools should close because they feel the majority of the school board no longer backs the task they were assigned to do.

On Monday, the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group met in what should have been their second to last meeting. The Lawrence school board has charged the 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.

Five months of discussion came to a head Monday night when representatives from Pinckney announced they would not recommend closing any schools based on feedback from school board members.

While the seven school board members haven’t recently discussed the working group’s progress in public, the Pinckney parents emailed the board imploring them to state their stance for the record.

“We saw the votes there and didn’t think it would do any of us any good to make superficial closure recommendations,” Pinckney parent Stacey White said.

She later clarified that they group wasn’t advocating not to close any schools.

“We aren’t saying to recommend to close no schools. We just refuse to name schools and then play the villain to their hero,” White said.

Instead, White proposed that the working group make recommendations on key issues, such as how to handle English as a Second Language programming, boundary changes and a low socio-economic mix.

Superintendent Rick Doll acknowledged that the political landscape had changed and so had data about school enrollment. But he still urged the working group to come to the board with a recommendation.

“We all know we still have a unique opportunity to influence this decision,” Doll said. “Whatever you can give the board in terms of helping them with this decision is extremely important.”

While the working group agreed to not name specific schools, they remained split on whether closing schools was necessary.

“I just haven’t seen something that creates as much good as it does harm that makes it worthwhile to roll the dice,” New York parent Josh Davis said.

Not everyone agreed.

Kennedy parent Dawn Shew said closing schools was a way to provide much-needed services throughout the district.

“What we have done is not working. We have an opportunity here to do better. I’m not interested in the status quo. Where is the money going to come from for us to have a full-time nurse?” she said. “We have to make sacrifices. There is no fairy in this scenario. Something has to give.”

By the end of the night, the group decided to split in two. One group, formed of Cordley, New York and Hillcrest representatives, will work on a proposal that sees no compelling reasons to consolidate schools but does support a bond issue to improve the schools. The other group, formed of Kennedy, Pinckney and Sunset Hill representatives, will argue why consolidating schools would work. Their proposal just won’t say which schools should close. They also support a bond issue.

Both groups will meet again before their final meeting Monday. The group that doesn’t think any school closures will be beneficial will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at the New York School library, and the group that does support school closures will meet at 7 p.m. at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.

The working group is set to present its recommendation to the board Feb. 27 and is scheduled to meet for a final time next Monday.