Archive for Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Final report from school consolidation group doesn’t include closings

February 21, 2012


In the end, a working group tasked with finding ways to close Lawrence elementary schools decided on just three points: a bond is needed, the district has to address the staffing deficiencies in its elementary schools, and building improvements that eliminate portable classrooms are a must.

Last fall, the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Group was charged with the task of recommending 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.

When the group met for the last time Monday night, no one recommended closing any schools. Instead the 28 members split into two camps, each with their own recommendation that would be passed onto the school board.

Thirteen members voted for a recommendation that pushed for a bond issue that would keep all 14 elementary schools open, cover deferred maintenance projects, eliminate portable classrooms and add capacity for full-day kindergarten.

Eleven members supported a recommendation that kept closing schools as a valid option and urged the board to develop a long-term vision that would address English as a Second Language services, school boundaries and facility upgrades.  

Two members from the working group abstained from voting.

Much of Monday’s meeting was an attempt to extract where the two recommendations overlapped, which will be highlighted in a cover letter sent to the board later this week. But even reaching that common ground was a struggle as members discussed the finer points.

“It would at least be nice to agree on something,” New York representative Josh Davis said while pushing for the group to keep searching for commonalities.

That cover letter and the two recommendations officially will be handed over to the school board at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Fueled by emotion and at times contentious, the process wasn’t an easy one. But the members coming out of Monday’s meeting said they were glad they participated in it.

“It was long and difficult. But at the end it was worth it,” said Chris Lempa, the community representative for New York. “And in some ways it is just the beginning.”

As the working group studied several proposals for closing down schools, Sunset Hill parent Daisy Wakefield said she realized there were no clear solutions.

“If you move one piece, seven other pieces move as well,” she said. “People on the outside, including us, didn’t realize that. You go through this process and you realize how much everything is interwoven, and nothing is easy.”

The working group took a major turn last week when members from Pinckney announced that the majority of the school board no longer backed the charge to consolidate schools. For some in the group, such as Kennedy parent Dawn Shew, that was a hard thing to hear after months of work. Even still, she said the process was a worthy one.

“It is worth it to have your voice heard in the community,” Shew said. “We may not see the efforts of the work we did next year or in the next five years, but in the end I don’t think it will disappear. And that is worth it.”

In his closing comments to the working group, Superintendent Rick Doll hinted at the changing context of the group’s charge. Among those changes were data on school enrollment, new school board members and an improving financial situation.  

“Your task under normal situations was very, very difficult. And then in addition to that stuff started shifting underneath you as you were working on your charge,” Doll said.  “I certainly recognize you were given a difficult task.”

He also used his remarks to urge the members to stay involved.

“That last thing I leave with you is that we can do better and now is the time to do better,” Doll said. “We are going to be asking the community to help us do better, and you are going to have to help us with that.”


Steve Jacob 6 years, 3 months ago

So instead of making the tough choices, we need to spend more money? The school board passed the buck on school cuts and it blew up in there face.

Bob_Loblaw 6 years, 3 months ago

We would be spending money whether it was to renovate or build new school(s). Which makes better sense educationally, fiscally (long term), and as a neighborhood community is what it comes down to.

aryastark1984 6 years, 3 months ago

This has always been a question of how MUCH money you want to spend. In order to consolidate, you would need to build a new school somewhere. That would cost way more than repairing what we have.

irvan moore 6 years, 3 months ago

i think by not making a choice they really did make a choice. refusing to vote to consolidate schools was a choice for the kids and the neighborhoods. the board is now put in the position of having to do their jobs and manage the districts finances

George_Braziller 6 years, 3 months ago

I for one will vote against any bond. If the school board had used the last one the way it was intended the idea of another one wouldn't even be on the table.

kansastm 6 years, 3 months ago

Please put this argument to rest. If you read the exact language of the ballot for that bond, it clearly states the money could only be used for junior highs, high schools, and repairs and renovations to Broken Arrow Elementary:

That bond could not have been used for the items the working group refers to at the elementary schools.

NotreDameHawk 6 years, 3 months ago

So, with another article today saying that property valuations have gone down and with them property tax receipts, we have this group saying raise you taxes more to shine up their turds. Sorry, parents of kids at Sunflower, the kids on the east side deserve smaller class sizes more than you, because they are more special than your kids! Now pony up some more tax dollars to pay for it!

Bob_Loblaw 6 years, 3 months ago

Your post makes no sense....this is about smaller class sizes for everyone first of all which has been proven again and again to facilitate better learning. It's not even an argument. It's been proven to death.

So you don't think that closing neighborhood schools...which would mean fewer families wanting to move into those areas....which means more college student rentals....which means property valuations going down.....doesn't mean anything? Look at the property values of homes in the "student ghetto" areas of town.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 3 months ago

Students have to live somewhere. Not all of us want to stay on campus and many can't afford Tuckaway. Sorry to disappoint you. Welcome to the age-old battle between the students and the townies. I would actually predict that students start moving out of the "ghetto" soon. Lots of us live in the west and south parts of town now.

LarryCarl 6 years, 3 months ago

I suppose they could even out the class sizes by bussing some of those Sunflower kids to the east side schools...

As I've mentioned before... they closed down our east side neighborhood school years ago... and most everybody was fine with that... other than us, of course... and our kids...

So… let's do it... one big school out by the lake...

“Lawrence Lakeside Liberty Elementary”

and fire up the busses…

aryastark1984 6 years, 3 months ago

You are missing cause and effect. The reason that Sunflower is crowded id BECAUSE of school closure. When they closed Wakarusa, those kids didn't dematerialize-they were bussed to Sunflower and Broken Arrow.

If you want smaller class sizes, you actually need more schools not fewer.

LarryCarl 6 years, 3 months ago

yeah... right... none of this was going on before Obama was in office...

I agree about no bond... most of us on the east side are fed up with paying more and more so that all those west side kids can have brand new schools...

How about we quit building new schools... and bus kids into the older schools...

Bob_Loblaw 6 years, 3 months ago

Off the soap box..... Where do you think the money would come from if consolidation did/does go through in the future? A new school(s) would have to be built....that's just a fact. Consolidating schools would mean spending money, and that would require voter approval....a bond for renovations is a vote issue as well.

There is money involved with either choice - consolidation or upgrade/renovation.

Gary Anderson 6 years, 3 months ago

Is there ANYTHING...I mean anything you don't like that you can't spin it into being The President's fault? I know you hate how intelligent people noticed that it really was the former President's fault we got into a couple of unnecessary now turnabout is fair play? The only problem with that is we were right...and you are almost always wrong.

Gary Anderson 6 years, 3 months ago

You are wrong on every count...the war in Libya, which is legal, can not be compared to what we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan by any serious person...the Democrats did not control congress (if 3 workers are in charge of a bank and 2 robbers show up with guns...are you going to say the 3 workers were in charge of the situation just because they had a majority number?)...the stimulus was a should have been much larger and would have been if it wasn't for those pesky 2 robbers! Your hate has made you blind to the most simple of facts.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 3 months ago

Remember the district has no money for schools, but has plenty of money to buy property off of K10.

Mike Myers 6 years, 3 months ago

Sell that boondoggle! USD 497 should not be in bed with developers in the land speculation game. Take that 1.x million dollars and invest in the maintenance backlog that USD has been ignoring for decades. The people have spoken. We aren't closing them so you must fix them!!!

JackMcKee 6 years, 3 months ago

They're just delaying the inevitable. Eventually the town is going to have to come to terms with reasonable fiscal policy. The taxpayers won't accept this forever.

aryastark1984 6 years, 3 months ago

How about a reasonable policy that we don't treat elementary students like cash cows, siphoning money from elementary budgets into middle and high schools. If you do not know that we spend FAR less per elementary school child than is funded by the state (and LOB), than you are not paying attention.

How about if we recognize that if you don't provide kids with an educational foundation, then middle and high school just don't matter.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 3 months ago

Higher local taxes are only inevitable with what is going on at the state level right now. Hasn't anyone been following the news? With Brownie making cuts to education and social services, that only puts more of the burden on local school districts and county and city governments. I'm not saying USD 497 has been wise with their money (I'm sure they haven't at times), but are we (the taxpayers) to deny our city's children the funding their schools need? I'm all for paying a little more in taxes if it means our schools have better upkeep. Cordley looks like it's about to fall down. I'd like to see it look a little better, wouldn't you? If we can convince the board to put in very clear instructions for how a bond would be used, I think voters are more likely to support it.

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