The question of consolidating Lawrence elementary schools is on hold, but what hasn’t gone away is the possibility of boundary changes.
Today, the Lawrence school board is expected to accept the recommendations that resulted from six months of work by the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Group. The board had asked 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.
In the end, the group split in half. One side believed the negative costs of consolidating outweighed the benefits. The other group said closing schools should remain a valid option, but they didn’t want to name which ones to close.
The two camps had some commonalities, one of which was that boundaries would have to change if all elementary schools were going to stay open. They just disagreed as to what extent those boundaries changes would have to occur.
Representatives from Kennedy, Pinckney and Sunset Hill, who believed closing schools could improve the district, said boundary changes needed to happen soon. In their recommendation to the board, they noted that the district’s solution of using portable classrooms to accommodate students in schools that have reached capacity isn’t sustainable.
“In order to even out enrollment districtwide, freeing up space in some facilities, while filling seats in those schools with extra capacity, the school board must begin an immediate analysis of boundary shifts that could be implemented as early as fall 2012,” the recommendation reads.
The group goes on to state that boundary shifts are a normal and realistic part of school district management.
The other group, which was made up of New York, Cordley and Hillcrest parents and advocated for no school closings, also saw the need for boundary changes. In their discussions, however, they stressed that there should be minor shifts that would be far less intrusive than the ones consultants proposed while looking at possible consolidation scenarios. In those scenarios, nearly every school would see its boundary shift.
“While enrollment growth may require boundary changes in any event, the boundary changes and overcrowding would be much greater if schools are closed rather than upgraded,” their recommendation stated.
School board members aren’t anticipating a lengthy conversation today when they accept the working group’s recommendations.
“I would like some time to digest what they have recommended,” board member Shannon Kimball said. “There are lots and lots of unanswered questions in my mind on a number of things that could potentially influence where the board goes with this recommendation.”
One of those questions would be boundary changes, Kimball said.
Changing boundaries would be difficult, Kimball acknowledged and noted that for the families affected, it’s akin to closing a school.
“When you change the boundary, you are changing a student’s school,” she said.
School board member Rick Ingram, who is on the district’s boundary committee, admits there is a reluctance to change boundaries.
But he, too, sees the need for boundary changes in the future to ease the pressure of overcrowding at schools such as Broken Arrow and Sunflower. He said, however, that those shifts would be nothing like the boundary changes proposed by the consultants during consolidation talks.
“I really think those were pretty Draconian,” he said.
He hopes those shifts can be made far enough in advance so students wouldn’t have to change schools.
“I liked students to be grandfathered into the school, so even if the boundary changed, the student would be unaffected until they leave for the next school,” Ingram said.
Boundary changes or not, Kimball said the district needs to better plan for its elementary schools.
“That is the one thing that is abundantly clear from all the discussions we have had,” she said. “We need to be visionary instead of reactionary.”