The school district should push for a bond that would keep all 14 Lawrence elementary schools open, cover deferred maintenance projects, eliminate portable classrooms and add capacity for full-day kindergarten.
That’s the heart of the recommendation coming out of half of the members of a working group that has been asked to find a way to close the district’s smallest elementary schools.
For more than five months, nearly 30 members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group have debated the best way to do that. Their charge from the school board was 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.
That recommendation is due by the end of the week. With a deadline approaching and no consensus looming, at the last meeting the working group split into two philosophically different camps.
One group maintains that consolidation is needed but would not specifically name what schools should close. That group, which is comprised of Pinckney, Kennedy and Sunset Hill representatives, will discuss their recommendation on how to close schools tonight.
The other group, which met Saturday afternoon, has concluded that the district will never gain the support it needs to issue a bond if schools are closed. The group, which is formed of New York, Hillcrest and Cordley representatives, believes that two of the driving forces for school closures — a severe budget crunch and declining enrollment — have changed.
Here are some of the group’s major points:
• The district had $1 million remaining in its operational funds at the end of each of the past two fiscal years.
• Elementary enrollment is growing at double the previously expected rate with the growth concentrated in and around the schools considered for consolidation.
• Elementary schools no longer have large amounts of unused capacity.
• Closing any school would require more building, which would cost more than upgrading the schools up for consolidation.
• If consolidations were to occur, boundaries would change across the entire district.
The group also questioned how much money the district would really save by closing schools because much of the money would go toward mitigating the effect it would have on the schools’ at-risk students.
“Bottom line is we think the costs and harms pretty significantly outweigh the benefits we can get from closing schools,” Cordley parent Chuck Epp said.
Those costs included boundary changes, increase in class sizes, harm to at-risk students, disruption of the English as Second Language program and effect on historic neighborhoods.
The entire working group will meet for one last time Monday when two recommendations will be discussed. Those recommendations will then be presented to the school board Feb. 27.