Letters to the Editor

School sense

January 9, 2012


To the editor:

I can’t imagine what the school board or its captive subcommittees are thinking when they consider closing schools such as Hillcrest, Sunset Hill and Pinckney — especially after the recent revelations that these schools are in neighborhoods that are slated to have increased numbers of schoolchildren.

Are the elementary schools to the west (Langston Hughes, Quail Run) the only ones deserving of respect by our elected and selected representatives?

A few reasons that Hillcrest, Sunset Hill and Pinckney should NOT be closed:

• These schools are in neighborhoods that will soon be home to increasing numbers of school-age children.

• If either Hillcrest or Sunset Hill closes, young children will be forced to cross busy Iowa Street to get to school.

• Hillcrest is adjacent to Ryan Gray Park, a fairly new park which accommodates all children,  including  those with physical handicaps.

• Pinckney is a solid two-story building that has recently had major additions at great expense.

• Pinckney has a tunnel underneath Sixth Street that allows children who live south of the school to get to school safely;

• Pinckney has historic significance as it was once attended by Langston Hughes.

Will it take a vehicle hitting a young child on Iowa Street to bring the school board to its senses? Does the school board ignore all demographic projections? Does the school board not care about the safety of students?  Does the school board not care about wasting taxpayer funds that paid for recent school updates?

THINK, people!


budman 6 years, 5 months ago

I wish there were a few private schools in Lawrence to send my kids to. I feel trapped as a parent having no choice or freedom to chose where my kids go to school.

I can't imagine what It'd be like to live in the KCMO school district, which just lost accreditation, or any inter city school district for that matter. Desperately hoping your kid would have a future but being completely reliant on public schools.

I really hope they make more head way into charter schools or student vouchers. At the very least you'd have more options and control over your kids future.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 5 months ago

Prairie Moon Waldorf School, Bishop Seabury, Veritas, Raintree Montessori, St.Johns, Century School, Corpus Christi.

Still "trapped" or just stubborn and happy to complain?

nativeson 6 years, 5 months ago

Let's think. Langston, Quail and others are 2.5 to 3 miles apart. Many schools in East Lawrence are less than 1 mile apart. The facility costs including staff at the schools like Langston are about 40% less cost per student to operate, and they consistently have larger classroom sizes. Who is losing in this situation?

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 5 months ago

Kennedy and PrairiePark are the two closest to each other and they are more than a mile apart.A highway (K-10) runs between them. New York and Cordley are the only other two in East Lawrence.What is this "many schools in East Lawrence" mess?

Gotalife 6 years, 5 months ago

The closing of schools is nothing new to this district! They have always cast aside the importance of neighborhood schools just to have enough dollars to support the west side of town. Our family left the Lawrence Public school system years ago, after they closed our school as well. We moved both our children to a private school, and we never looked back. They have progressed more than we could have ever expected. Take a look at the private schools in town, schools in smaller towns nearby, homeschool coops, but don't expect the LPS system to change. And before anyone says, many can't afford private schools, it's worth it..and they often have scholarship funds you can apply for.

Mr_Moderate 6 years, 5 months ago

Nativeson, check your homework. The West side's 3-section schools are only 7.5% more efficient than the East side's 2-section schools, according to last year's Task Force report. 1-section schools are where efficiency really drops--but the USD497 no longer has 1-section schools. And the East side schools bring in on average 40% or more state funding per pupil than the West side schools, because low-income students and English-language learners are given a minimum of 45% extra funding than a middle-income pupil by the State and Federal governments. Bottom line: the poor students on the East side are subsidizing the rest of the district. And the proposal to close schools on the East side amounts to asking them to subsidize the West side at an even higher rate than they do already. Who, indeed, is losing in this situation??

aryastark1984 6 years, 5 months ago

Mr_ Moderate. I have also heard that the East Side schools not only fund themselves but that the district uses these funds to subsidize West Side schools. Can you provide some specific data. The idea that money that is designed to go to at risk kids is being spent elsewhere is galling.

Mr_Moderate 6 years, 5 months ago

Nativeson, your mileage claims are in error, too.

Quail Run to Langston Hughes: 1.8 miles. (West side) Cordley to New York: 1.6 miles. Cordley to Kennedy: 1.3 miles. New York to Pinckney: 1.2 miles. New York to Kennedy: 2.1 miles.

All data from mapquest/googlemaps.

aryastark1984 6 years, 5 months ago

So. What you are saying is the East side schools and West side schools are different. So what. Housing is different. On the West side, houses are more spread out. On the East side, they are closer together. That is just the way the city has grown up.

As far as your statements on operating costs. You are just wrong. You are at best comparing operating costs for Langston Hughes to Wakarusa-a school that no longer exists. When you do "apples to apples" comparisons for these schools, they are not far off in terms of per pupil costs. The reason that operating costs LOOK so different is that the kids have different needs. At risk kids are disproportionately concentrated on the east side of town and at risk kids require additional services. For instance, Hillcrest has almost 200 kids for whom English is a second language. In addition, Pinkney and Hillcrest are "Title 1" schools meaning they get extra teachers and paras to support a large population of low income kids (> 50% in both schools). Fewer than 10% of Langston Hughs' kids qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Unless you have a magic wand that will raise the income of all of the East Side kids and change their first language, these kids will be more expensive no matter where you put them. Incidentally, the current weighted formula for state base aid means that they also actually BRING IN more money too. So, these schools pay for themselves and then some.

Finally, lets talk class size. 1) Low income and at risk kids SHOULD have smaller class sizes. I am sorry, but if you want those kids to succeed, it is an absolute necessity. Would it be great if all kids have smaller class sizes, ABSOLUTELY. If you want that, vote democrat or stop complaining. 2) Hillcrest, despite the fact that it has 200 ESL kids, and despite the fact that more than half of the kids are low income HAS THE LARGEST AVERAGE CLASS SIZES IN THE DISTRICT. This is a stone cold fact. 3) If you don't like large class sizes. Don't close or consolidate schools. Closing Wakarusa dramatically increased class sizes at both Broken Arrow AND Sunflower. Sunflower is way over capacity right now and growth projections show that it will hit crisis mode within 5 years. The financially prudent thing to do would be to redraw some boundaries and shift some of the Sunflower kids to Sunset Hill. Of course you can't do that if you close Sunset Hill.

This consolidation scenario was based on a faulty premise, that the East side schools are under capacity and that growth was on the West side of town. It turns out the opposite appears to be true. The reality is that over the next five years, the very East side schools you want to close are projected to increase in size (reducing operating costs) and the West side schools you find so efficient will decrease in enrollment (becoming more expensive).

TNPlates 6 years, 5 months ago

Jane, I agree that none of these schools should be closed or consolidated, but will point out that there are already children that cross Iowa Street to attend Hillcrest. Under the scenario that Hillcrest closes and those students are shifted to Sunset Hills, the students who cross Iowa Street would be different, but the number who do would probably not be much, if any, of a net gain.

Did you know that currently there are dozens of children who have to cross 23rd Street every day to attend Schwegler Elementary? And that there are children who live SW of the Iowa/23rd intersection that attend Schwegler, but are not afforded a crossing guard because it would be "unsafe" ... for the crossing guard? USD 497 won't provide busing for those children, since they live within 2.5 miles of the school, so they're on their own to get to school. Those who can afford it probably drive their children, but what about those who can't?

And finally, if you've followed this process at all, I would think you CAN imagine what the good folks on the School Consolidation Task Force were thinking when they VOLUNTEERED to be on this thankless committee: better to be involved in the process than to simply sit on the sidelines wait to see their schools' fate, not knowing what forces or people are influencing the process.

Most folks on this task force are NOT in favor of closing or consolidating these neighborhood schools, but the charge they were given by our elected School Board was to offer scenarios on how to close/consolidate and do the least harm. Trust me, most of the folks on this task force ARE thinking.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

+1 Thanks to all for doing a thankless job. No one likes this, but if the Gov continues to see how little we can spend on schools, there will be lots of changes, including shutting down buildings across the state, firing teachers and increasing class sizes.

aryastark1984 6 years, 5 months ago

Clearly Gov. Brownshirt is dangerous to education. But, even with draconian cuts to education, closing elementary schools is just not an efficient way to save money. They are already the most efficient type of school. You just can't save much more money here. Closing Wakarusa is a perfect example of why this is true. By closing Wakarusa, we increased class sizes in two schools (Broken Arrow and Sunflower) and have caused over-crowding. So, the measly 300-400 k that we saved will now be further offset by needing to change school boundaries and (likely) bus kids to schools further away from their home and we may need to add more teachers to accommodate additional kids in the receiving schools.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Good points, but in the long run, the only way to save much money in any service organization is to fire workers. Recent examples include the President's plan to shrink the military payroll and Mr. Romney's experiences when he was a 'job creator' helping to buy companies, fire their workers and liquidate their assets.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

Gov Brownback has his eye on those "Christian Private Schools" which is where your tax dollars will go...... believe it.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 5 months ago

hahahahahahaha, yep, a governor of a small state in the Midwest is going to violate the constitution.

Watch out merrill, that noise you hear is a black helicopter.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

No tax increase Sam Brownback is INITIATING TAX INCREASES throughout the state by eliminating the state income tax. This state income tax money makes up 50% of the state budget.

Don't expect help from republicans because the word is out that Koch money and Sam Brownback have a plan in place to replace all republicans who work against Sam Brownback. This is the tool that has virtually eliminated most all republicans from the national GOP. It was a slow effective process. IT is a done deal.

As for what USD 497 BOE should do. Wait!

There is a good possibility that USD 497 cannot afford to forth a bond issue to build new buildings. The Brownback tax increases is the mammoth obstacle. Closing schools may not be an option.

Before closing schools and building new ones USD 497 public school teachers pay needs to move to the front burner. Any tax increases should be applied to teaching salaries. USD 497 Teachers have been taking a hit for too many years.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

Tax $$$ spending

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

USD 497 taxpayers need to think of nurturing our teachers which has not been adequately addressed in some years. Some kind of a pay increase method may need to be a matter for consideration should the legislature open those doors.

We don't need two tax increases. If any tax increase presents itself it should be applied to salaries. This demonstrates the exercise of good judgment and/or common sense… can we say prudent?

Don't forget USD has more than $20 million USD 497 tax dollars on the table for the ill conceived sports project. That $20 million couldn’t have been spent at a worst time.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. Knowing how to nurture tax dollars is an art. I vote for teacher salaries!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

Jane Frydman,

Your points are well taken. You are absolutely correct in your assertions. BOE members are not necessarily anymore brilliant than anyone else on tax dollar spending.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. Knowing how to nurture our teachers and our tax dollars is an art. Let us decide!

So why are you and others not attending these USD BOE meetings telling the BOE how taxpayers want their money spent? There is no hard evidence to even suggest that tax $$$ will be saved shutting down perfectly useful buildings to build new shiny buildings. New buildings don't teach any better than beautiful old buildings.

Time for parents to organize don't wait. Time to tell the BOE how we want our tax dollars spent. We taxpayers do pay the bills after all. Yes I have made the BOE well aware of my position. Unfortunately I was the only one in a mostly empty room making that case.

What's up:

All our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

How should the school district pay for a $16.5 million maintenance backlog in elementary schools? 61% suggested pay as they go, slowly if needed



Parents would you be willing to find other means to get your students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open,teachers employed and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries? 80% of 5,198 participants said yes! This number 5,198 is an extremely high response for any JW poll.

Why not organize around saving teacher salaries and the quality of USD 497? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

When are parents going to fill up the meeting room to let the USD 497 know how taxpayers want their money spent? Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. Knowing how to nurture our teachers and our tax dollars is an art. Let us decide!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

USD 497 taxpayers pay the bills! It is up to us to decide!

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

How many times have you cited that poll from 2003, merrill? Do you think nothing has changed since then?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 5 months ago

"they were given by our elected School Board was to offer scenarios on how to close/consolidate and do the least harm. "

They can also choose to not support the plan after reviewing the info at hand.

Close/consolidate may in fact NOT be in the best interest of taxpayers or students

It is only a certain few in this community who want new buildings and who have been trying to accomplish this nonsense since about 2003.

I for one do not approve of the " to hell with what parents,taxpayers and students think of our plan" attitude displayed by some on this board. Certainly none on the previous board were endowed with specific credentials to make these decisions nor is anyone in the community.

We taxpayers are receiving way more speculation than substance.

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