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Opinion

Opinion

Time’s up

More time probably won’t produce more definitive recommendations from the group studying elementary school consolidation issues.

January 4, 2012

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The community should appreciate the time that members of a local working group have contributed to studying the consolidation of elementary schools in Lawrence, but it is looking less and less likely that the group will supply any meaningful guidance for the Lawrence school board.

With less than a month to go before its Jan. 31 deadline, the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group has yet to arrive at any solid recommendations. At their previous meeting, members of the group could agree on only one point: that regardless of whether any schools are consolidated, the district should propose a bond issue to raise more money for elementary schools. On Monday, their only point of consensus was that they would need more time to finish their job.

Two board members who attended Monday’s meeting said the request for more time probably would be approved. “I’d rather get something right than something rushed,” said Keith Diaz Moore.

With all due respect to those involved, it seems unlikely that giving this group more time is substantially going to impact the conclusions it reaches. A number of factors almost guaranteed this group would end up at an impasse. First, the working group was made up almost entirely of people who represented schools that likely would be closed and/or consolidated. They all had a constituency to represent or turf to protect.

Other factors also worked against them. It wasn’t until this week that the working group received projections for enrollment at the district’s 14 elementary schools — data that should figure heavily in their discussions. Interestingly, the projections prepared by an outside consulting firm, indicate that four of the six schools being considered for consolidation are expected to see enrollment increases over the next five years and two of the six are expected to be over capacity by the 2016-17 school year. How does that figure in with plans to close schools?

The group also has been hampered by mixed signals from the school board. Last year, the board approved specific instructions that the working group was to assume that the six schools in question would be reduced to three or four schools and should work to come up with the best scenario for that consolidation. After that charge was approved, however, four new board members took office, and the commitment to closing and consolidating schools appears to have softened.

The board can allow the working group more time to consider its recommendation, but it seems unlikely that more time will produce a more definitive recommendation. That means this issue will simply be back where it started: on the school board’s agenda.

It’s always a good idea to collect public input and try to involve stakeholders in key community decisions, but the factors mentioned above have made it difficult, if not impossible, for this working group to produce a solid recommendation. More time won’t help. The board should encourage the group to complete whatever work it can accomplish quickly and turn the issue back to the elected officials.

Comments

weeslicket 2 years, 3 months ago

a re-ordering of the commentary:

1.A number of factors almost guaranteed this group would end up at an impasse. 2. Last year, the board approved specific instructions that the working group was to assume that the six schools in question would be reduced to three or four schools and should work to come up with the best scenario for that consolidation. 2a. find the word assume in the previous. (2b. the assumption was that reduced enrollments must needs force consolidation.) 3. It wasn’t until this week that the working group received projections for enrollment at the district’s 14 elementary schools — data that should figure heavily in their discussions. Interestingly, the projections prepared by an outside consulting firm, indicate that four of the six schools being considered for consolidation are expected to see enrollment increases over the next five years and two of the six are expected to be over capacity by the 2016-17 school year. CONCLUSION: when one's premise is faulty, all conclusions that derive from that faulty premise are also faulty. in other words: the reasons for consolidation have been shown to be misguided. i am hopeful that sensible heads may yet prevail.

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spiderd 2 years, 3 months ago

Hey Editorial author, I'm talking to you. Do you have a response or is this a one way conversation? Is there a reason this should be rushed?

I mean come on, your subtitle includes the word "probably", what kind of ground do you possibly have to stand on when you speak so definitively with such uncertainty?

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spiderd 2 years, 3 months ago

You do realize that you say that this group just got important projection data a week ago - within an opinion piece saying they shouldn't be granted any more time, right? Geesh, I can't imagine why more time might be in order.
Is there a reason why an important topic like this should be rushed?

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aryastark1984 2 years, 3 months ago

"Foolish consistencies are the hobgoblins of little minds." (thanks Leonard Pitts and RWE).

Pursuing consolidation in light of the new information is yet another type of foolish consistency. The impetus to consolidate was based on the assumption that the East side was shrinking, growth was on the West side of town, and that East side schools were underutilized. We now know that none of those assumptions are true. As the LJW editorial correctly reported, 4/6 of the elementary schools targeted for consolidation are projected to have significant growth in the next 5 years. Two are projected to exceed capacity. What the LJW neglected to report was that two additional schools are now and/or will continue to be over capacity Sunflower and Broken Arrow. These two schools are (or will be) bursting at the seams because they were used to accommodate the kids from Wakarusa.

If foolish consistencies are the hobgoblins of small minds, then we must strive to learn from mistakes. What have we learned from closing Wakarusa? 1) closing a school causes disruption not only to the kids in the closed school, it affects the surrounding schools as well. In fact, it affects the entire system. 2) Closing schools Increases class sizes. Both Broken Arrow and Sunflower have seen increases in class sizes as a result of adding kids from Wakarusa. This is the only way that you can achieve significant cost savings. Did the district expect that closing a small school like Wakarusa would cause these problems? I doubt it. This, of course, leads to another lesson that we should learn-the law of unintended consequences. In order to save a few hundred thousand in operating costs, we will now need to spend additional money either to expand both of those schools (capital outlay) OR change boundaries and bus some kids to other adjacent schools (operating costs). Which leads to a final lesson learned, closing an elementary school does not save you very much in the short term and may end up costing you more in the long term.

So, are we going to learn from our mistakes? Or, should we foolishly cling white-knuckled to a plan that was based on faulty assumptions, one that already has created costly problems that we will need to solve in the years to come, and add more problems and expenses to the list by closing school(s) that are projected to grow during the next 5 years.

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beaujackson 2 years, 3 months ago

Play it again, Sam.

The board has "passed the buck" to these committees.

Reality: Final decisions are usually made by the administration, whose information and "suggestions" are adopted by the board, who rarely has the "guts" to say "no" to the administration.

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SynjynSmythe 2 years, 3 months ago

This was never anything more than a "goat rope." Forming a committed which includes either those, or like-minded folks, who adamantly fought the only reasonable recommendation from the prior committee (close Pinckney & Cordley = $3.1M saved), and asking them to close those schools was pure folly. This mission never had a chance. Morgan/Minder/Doll ignored the obvious & ram-rodded the closure of Wakarusa and saved, at best $300K. They then put that money back into all-day K. Doll, having misled the prior committee about available funding, then took $3M from previously hidden available funding to cover the supposed shortfall. The prior SB did not have the courage to do what was necessary. This SB apparently doesn't, either. I thought we elected SB members to make decisions, not to pawn off the decisionmaking process on to some "committee" comprised of members with vested interests. The farce continues, as will the status quo!

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

"First, the working group was made up almost entirely of people who represented schools that likely would be closed and/or consolidated. They all had a constituency to represent or turf to protect."

Gosh how small-d democratic, actually letting those who will be most affected by these decisions to participate in them. Such a travesty.

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Cogito_Ergo_Es 2 years, 3 months ago

Gosh, if this group had just had a certain couple of school board members included, like our task force last year, they could have easily offered up a couple of sacrificial schools! It might have been appropriate to have this group/or affected stakeholders (of course, all schools become stakeholders when there is closure) present these scenarios to the board, but in no particular order and with no recommendation. Let the committee do the legwork, offer up their best ideas, but let the school board cull through it and make their own decisions. This way their vote will actually be their own and not someone else's recommendation to back. The scenarios would still be based on what these folks (within their smaller groups) think is workable and palatable. Perhaps another few weeks could be given since they just received the projection data. But, sadly, I agree, I don't think giving the group more time will actually result in consensus. This was a flawed process from the start, but I applaud the efforts of these people who tried so hard to do right by their children and all the children of Lawrence. Thank you for all the time and consideration you have put into this.

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