Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2012

School consolidation working group won’t pursue specific closings

February 14, 2012


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.


Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

The consolidation group was given the task to decide which schools to close. No other decision was acceptable. That task was decided before the group was formed and did not leave open whether or not that type of decision was best for taxpayers or the school district.

Much of our districts school building problems have been the result of a demolition by neglect attitude of a previous administration and BOE members. Driven by a private agenda to build new buildings. An attitude USD 497 taxpayers can never afford.

In essence our initial tax dollar investments go straight to hell when taxpayer owned property does not receive the attention and care legally expected or required of the admin and the USD 497 BOE.

The following example represents the magnitude by which a demolition by neglect attitude impacts the taxpayers as opposed to maintaining structures as expected:

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools?

Notice the $20 million USD 497 $$$ spent on the PLAY project could have rehabilitated all of our elementary school facilities.

When future options are presented to USD 497 taxpayers the option of spending annual capital outlay funds over a 3-4 year period as opposed to a another bond issue or increasing USD 497 taxes should be among them

In fact it would be quite thoughtful for this BOE to take steps that would never again allow millions upon millions upon millions of USD 497 tax dollars to be spent without USD 497 taxpayer approval. I reference the reckless spending on the most recent PLAY sports project.

Let the voters decide whether or not they want to be reckless.

GardenMomma 3 years, 7 months ago

"We just refuse to name schools and then play the villain to their hero,”

Good for you!

aryastark1984 3 years, 7 months ago

I think that the Pinckney/Kennedy/Sunset Hill group would do well to read Trevor Wohlford's LTE today. The pathway to getting additional resources for your schools is NOT by alienating other East side schools, but by banding together and making a clear and strong statement about what is needed in schools with large populations of at risk children. The board will have a harder time ignoring a unified voice than an unhappy small group.

Elementary schools have been sorely neglected in the past because the board was made up of people who were most interested in middle and high schools and/or had children or grand children in middle or high schools. The make up of this board is ENTIRELY different 5/7 have children in elementary schools. 4/7 have children in East side elementary schools. This is a board that just MIGHT "get it". Be smart. There is strength in numbers. Use that to your advantage.

TNPlates 3 years, 7 months ago

Trevor articulates the stance of SONS from the beginning - Our way or the highway. The reps from Hillcrest/Cordley/New York have been willing to work with the others all along, so long as the others toed their line. And now, aryastark says the same thing.

It's interesting that H/C/NY entered this process, agreeing to a charge, only to work feverishly to undermine and circumvent it. Then, when they realized that not everyone was following their agenda, they cried foul and asked their minions to call, harass and pressure their friends and neighbors who lived in the other three school districts. Way to politicize a public process, SONS! (And ironically, a process that SONS originally asked for to ensure the affected schools would have a say in how consolidation might take place, all with no intention to actually follow-through with.)

And kudos to the school board members who did their political backers proud by allowing this charge to go forward only to undermine it by first telling them that a consensus wasn't necessary (thereby removing any necessity to actually work toward a consensus), then whispering privately that only one school closure was likely then later, none at all, while at the same time being unwillingly to say the same thing publicly.

This whole process has been an exercise in manipulation. One has to wonder if that was the plan all along? RIck? Vanessa? Keith?

KrampusLawrence 3 years, 7 months ago

Very shortsighted Mr. Plates. Have you read the recent reports from RSP? They outlined a much stronger population growth in the "consolidation areas." I would assume that some members of the Consolidation Working Group realized that it might not make sense to close schools in the areas that are experiencing growth.

You seem to want the group and district to move forward with the charge for the sake of moving forward with the charge. That doesn't seem like responsible planning.

TNPlates 3 years, 7 months ago

No I don't wish for them to move forward with the charge just to move forward with the charge. But, so long as the charge stands, it should be followed, per the implicit agreement of everyone who volunteered. If the charge has changed or is no longer valid, that should be made clear by the folks who issued it in the first place (the School Board). To issue a charge with no intention of following a recommendation (or only the intention of following a specific recommendation) is not really a charge, but a waste of time, energy, and good-will.

Would you not agree?

I think a lot of people would be happier to have the charge changed or cancelled then to take it to the end only to realize that minds were made up months ago and that the original charge has no bearing on current realities, which is what it now appears.

KrampusLawrence 3 years, 7 months ago

I would agree that it is disingenuous to not look at the data. This includes previous and current reports. From all accounts this group has done that. Dr. Doll has brought up the possibility of going against the charge.

Also, that's a tough accusation you are making with regards to the three groups. Each of those groups put forth proposals to "consolidate" schools.

aryastark1984 3 years, 7 months ago

The school board is not a single entity. It is made up of 7 individuals, only 4 of which had anything to do with establishing the original charge. There is absolutely nothing virtuous or noble about following a charge that you believe is not valid or could be harmful to the community. In fact, I would suggest that sort of behavior is the height of immorality.

Moreover, if your charge is based on assumptions that are no longer valid, then you would have to be a complete fool to pretend that nothing has changed.

Bob_Loblaw 3 years, 7 months ago

Mr./Mrs./Miss Tennessee Pilates said: "...This whole process has been an exercise in manipulation. One has to wonder if that was the plan all along? RIck? Vanessa? Keith?..."

Those are strong unproven accusations and unveiled insinuations you make. I call BS.....

irvan moore 3 years, 7 months ago

i think the elephant in the room is the importance of schools to neighborhoods, close a school and it will have an adverse affect on the students and the neighborhood. thank goodness some of the task force members are realizing they can tell the board to shove it.

William Ed 3 years, 7 months ago

Beatnik, if you need an example of what happens when you close a school just look to the southwest part of the county. After only eight months it is refreshing for 25 intelligent members of the community to finally realize that they had been scammed by MM and D. As Trevor said, "...will no longer entertain school consolidation proposals unless and until the district has presented a convincing case for action grounded in reliable data, rigorous research and professional feasibility analysis." Now isn't that a brilliant concept...

deadanimals 3 years, 7 months ago

Would it be too late to replace the members of the consolidation groups?

Mike Myers 3 years, 7 months ago

Why would anyone want to close a school if the dollar savings is so small? I understand that school kids need services but I think Dawn Shew's assertion that "what we have done is not working" is pretty much completely wrong. With some minor exceptions what we have been doing is working really well and the one school that is lagging behind is making great progress. Most of the schools are testing well above the reference standards. The district has already said that they are going to be putting more staff resources into Kennedy so the loss in property taxes from any neighborhood devoid of its school just isn't worth the paltry savings.

What we really need to do is come together to support a bond issue. That is the critical outcome of the process we are seeing right now. I would suggest that the Working Group members go back to their school and neighborhood constituents and ask them what is more important, closure for the sake of closure or a bond issue to maintain and update our existing buildings, address capacity issues, and get some of the great technology gizmos that the kids in the neighboring Blue Valley district are getting.

The capacity to pay teachers what they are worth is somewhat out of our hands but we can sure as hell build them a nice place to work and build the kids a nice (and dry) place to learn. Come together Working Group and tell everyone that passing a bond issue for technology, and building maintenance and upgrades to our elementary schools is the right thing to do. If you love Lawrence and want it healthy like I do then let's come together and get this thing done.

Bob_Loblaw 3 years, 7 months ago

Lucy and her crazy football.....

"...Board members in 2008 approved more than $18 million in work for athletic stadiums and fields at both high schools. To date, the board has allocated about $15 million to the project, Harwood said. The LHS press box will put the total cost at more than $15 million, he said. “These will be better facilities in the long run than the modular ones we were looking at. It’s not just crazy athletics over elementary,” board President Scott Morgan said. “This is a thing that our kids use, our community uses, and I think we would do it in a decent manner for a reasonable approach.”..." From:

Mark Currie 3 years, 7 months ago

It is all smoke & mirrors. Drive by Wakarusa any day and you will see more cars there than before it was "closed". It, like Centennial, is being "used" for other purposes. Sometimes buildings do get to the point where cost is worse than building a new building. If so, do it where it is needed.

Bob_Loblaw 3 years, 7 months ago

Wrong. Staying blindly on your course when new information (that's data with meaning behind it) becomes available is folly. Missions and scopes change as intel changes.

aryastark1984 3 years, 7 months ago

Um. If your goal is to pay lower taxes, than you should support the "close no schools option."

Day to day operations-paying teachers, custodians, the electric bill etc are all funded by the "Operating budget". The district gets X$ per child no matter how many schools we have. That $ amount is determined by Topeka. Decisions made in Lawrence about HOW we spend that money will not increase or decrease your taxes one red cent.

Building a school comes out of the capital outlay budget. If we wanted to build a couple of 18 million dollar schools AND repair the other schools, we would have to pass a pretty substantial bond to do that (i.e. higher property taxes).

Repairing the existing schools will probably require a much smaller bond, and because we are about to pay off a bond, your property taxes would probably go DOWN.

School funding is complicated and people care about different things. So, be careful that you are not supporting a position that is contrary to your stated self interest.

Pastor_Bedtime 3 years, 7 months ago

The notion of closing perfectly useful schools to consolidate to large monolithic centralized schools is ridiculous. Neighborhood schools reflect neighborhood values better. Reopen the Wakarusa school.

NotreDameHawk 3 years, 7 months ago

Typical claptrap from the usual suspects, did anybody expect this group would want to close their own schools? The only surprise is that it took them this long to pretend they couldn't do it. I expected it prior to Christmas break. Oh, but they do think we should raise our taxes to pay to make them bigger. Guess what, if you have kids in a school that has over 500 kids and have been seeing services cut, you get nothing (or more likely, even less), because the tiny east side schools are so special that any extra money should go to them AND you get to haul out your wallet to pay for all of their fantasy building checklist items. What BS. Typical Lawrence.

spiderd 3 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence has spent many many years funding the utilities & infrastructure of the great western expansion, schools included. This is fine by me, to each their own, but your assertion is ridiculous.

Mike Myers 3 years, 7 months ago

Notre, actually there are old bond issues about to retire. From what I've heard your taxes won't go up. They will likely stay the same. And "fantasy building checklist items"? Yea, like a roof that doesn't leak, an energy efficient boiler, and a frickin cafeteria? Please! You really have no clue. Every classroom you don't close is one you won't have to build new somewhere else. Close and build is FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE! They don't want fantasy, they just want a decent school near their homes. Is that too much to ask?

Dawn Shew 3 years, 7 months ago

This whole thing was written well before a single person was named to this committee. Three of the new board members were against closure, and it wouldn't have mattered what anyone said, or what data was presented. Apparently, the fourth vote has spoken. And that's all it takes. I don't blame the committee for being unwilling, as Ms. White put it, "to play the villain to their hero."

Both groups will recommend a bond. So, there is unity there. They just don't agree on whether or not is is efficacious to leave small schools open, losing a certain economy of scale. It is a difference of opinion, each with data and research on their side.

Not surprisingly, it is the three schools who are on the "close no schools" side who are most at risk: a non-ADA compliant dilapidated building that needs almost $2B in repairs, a school in which only 100 kids are in residence (in a neighborhood where there will be no growth because young families with kids cannot afford to live there), and a school that is one section in almost every grade.

KrampusLawrence 3 years, 7 months ago

This is easy for the Pinckney, Sunset Hill, and Kennedy representatives to say. Afterall, none of them have put forth a serious proposal to close "their" school. Go back and look over the minutes. Sunset Hill proposed building what equated to a new school. Kennedy proposed closing Kennedy only if they were to get a new building. Pinckney said the same.

It's just odd that the representatives that are working to represent all of the schools are being singled out.

weasel_fan 3 years, 7 months ago

Dear Mr./Mrs. patterte, You seem to know a lot about this and I am drawn to you - so much so that I have created my own Lawrence Journal World persona so that the two of us may interact. Given what has transpired and what has been discussed, what do you see as the best option? You say that both sides have data and research so I am curious as to who is right, is there such thing? I see your point on the 3 schools you mention (and while I don't mean to nitpick, I think you mean to say $2M) (but if it is $2B, I agree with you that that investment is too steep! "LOLing on my floor")), but I could also easily see the potential for self serving motives within the 3 that are supporting the notion of closing their fellow school - what a conundrum that has been created.
What is interesting, is that the three that are leaning towards not closing had a couple of options at their disposal. Had they been completely self serving, I suppose they could continue to aggressively take part in this process and focus efforts on their neighbor schools, that seems to have been the path taken by some. As an alternative, they could have persued their current path - again, potentially as a completely self serving action.
I do not think that that is the only possible motivation, and I don't believe you do either. I also do not think the groups that wish to continue with closure are necessarily solely acting in a self serving manner - though they may be. From my vantage point, I do not know what the school board was thinking when they created this group in the first place, its like a jury with every single member having a conflict of interest --- trying each other --- with a minimum number of guilty verdicts to hand out. It really is fascinating. So I will ask again, as someone who knows this situation well, what do you see, in your opinion, as the best way to proceed?

Dawn Shew 3 years, 7 months ago

Honestly, I don't think there is a "right" answer. Each side has points of value. Each side is passionate and emphatic in their reasoning. And, ultimately, I believe that each person thinks they are right, and trying to do what they believe is best.

At base, the conversation is more about where we are going as a district. What are our priorities? What do we, as a community, value? When we favor preserving one thing, that necessarily means that something else becomes less of a priority. Limited resources mean making those decisions.

A great example-- four schools in Lawrence still do not have all day kindergarten. There are no additional monies in the offing-- state or otherwise. But the district has made all-day kindergarten a priority. If USD497 is to implement full day programs at the remaining four schools, that money has to be found from somewhere.

Maybe the community decides that neighborhood schools are high on that priority list, and if so, then that's something that we must act to preserve. But if so, we understand that other things must become less of a priority for our resources. I believe this is exactly the point Ms. Sanburn made early on when the group came to the board.

It will be interesting to see what the board does with the recommendations of the group, if anything.

weasel_fan 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for your thoughtful response. There are a lot of good points being made by a lot of people here, I might ask some others what they think too. This is complicated!

DarioArgento 3 years, 7 months ago

From a purely selfish point of view, I just want Pinckney to stay open. Panther pride!

scaramouchepart2 3 years, 7 months ago

I know someone who is working in Johnson CO as a substitue after being retired in 497 USD and when she applied she was told not to expect a whole lot of money. When she got the job she is making more than in Lawrence as a teacher. Just a point of interest.

scaramouchepart2 3 years, 7 months ago

It was unacceptable to pit schools against each other. Good for the working groups to band together. Close schools and build new??? Who thought that idea would win the voters?

I have heard the idea is to close neighborhood schools for a few big schools which is extrmely irresponsible since everywhere it has been tried has failed misserably.

CharlieDunn 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, and it has not been shown that closing existing schools and building new will save any of us money or make better schools. Big new schools mean more business for developers, architecture firms and builders. Their biggest potential earnings are in bigger and newer and everything that builds up around it. Correcting deferred maintenance and expanding/improving existing non-west side schools doesn't come with quite the same flashing dollar signs.

wolfy 3 years, 7 months ago

School siting decisons profoundly impact future development patterns, and closing schools often leads to blight. Why on earth isn't the school district working with the city on capital decisions? Does the district believe it's above planning? The city's long-range planning documents clearly favor adaptive re-use and preservation of the core, not sprawl. Why was the district working at cross purposes with those goals? Why has the district summarily dismissed school renovation and add-on options? Let's hope the new board places stewardship of the old on a level playing field with construction of the new. Please nudge them in that direction, working group.

weasel_fan 3 years, 7 months ago

Dear wolfy,
I would have to agree with my fellow Lawrence Journal World commenter that these are good points. (Hello to you also Toto12! "LOLing" "woof" "woof" "slapping myself on my knee")

GMom05 3 years, 7 months ago

Like it or not, the city's long range plan, Horizon 2020, predicts growth to the south and west, distinctly opposite to your comment, "The city's long-range planning documents clearly favor adaptive re-use and preservation of the core, not sprawl." They may want to preserve the core, but you cannot ignore the sprawl. Lawrence is getting bigger, not just denser in the central core. As mentioned above the school district needs to work alongside the city planners and not act in a vacuum. Closing schools, be they in the core or to the south and west is wrong and short-sighted. They need to reopen Wakarusa and relieve the overcrowding on the S/W side.

Mike Myers 3 years, 7 months ago

You speak the truth. There will be growth and there will be growth near Wakarusa. We need growth to be healthy but it needs to be kept in check. It all must be balanced with preservation and investment in the core.

wolfy 3 years, 7 months ago

You are right, GMom05. The Wakarusa decision was demonstrably wrong.

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