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Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2012

School consolidation options due from task force next month

January 10, 2012

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Finance advisory group on way

Members of the Lawrence school board also agreed Monday to form a new Finance Advisory Committee, a volunteer group intended to help board members and district administrators make sense of budget challenges and opportunities.

Board members intend to appoint the five-member committee next month. An application form is expected to be posted soon on the district’s website, USD497.org.

At least one member of the Lawrence school board wouldn’t mind receiving an incomplete assignment from an advisory board struggling to recommend ways to consolidate elementary schools.

Instead of producing a document outlining a single course of action — identifying which two or three schools should close, then how to send displaced students into other existing, expanded or yet-to-be-built schools during the next two years — members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group should feel free to come up with a range of options for board members to consider.

That’s Randy Masten’s plan, anyway: Advisers should advise, no matter what form such advice might take. Then let the politicians decide.

“Apply your best logic,” Masten said, addressing an informal gathering of working group members Monday night atop the steps outside district headquarters. “Don’t worry about making us happy. Happy isn’t part of the equation. Give us something we can work with.”

Masten’s impromptu pep talk for about 10 members of the working group came after the board’s regular meeting, one in which the board agreed to give the report more time to complete its report.

The group now has another two weeks — until Feb. 15 — to produce its recommendations for consolidation, a task assigned to the group’s more than 30 volunteers this past summer. Members have met every two weeks since September, but several admit that they have yet to approach any sort of consensus on anything of substance: not which consolidation scenarios they should support, nor how they might determine which scenarios they should support, nor which scenarios they should send to consultants for further study, a precursor to deciding which ones they might support.

The group hadn’t even settled on how much extra time to ask for.

“You’re not near a conclusion at all,” said Bob Byers, a board member who attended last week’s group meeting as an observer.

Byers made his observation during Monday night’s board meeting, as group representatives from Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — the six schools identified as consolidation candidates by an earlier advisory group — took turns explaining why they needed more time.

Board members, in turn, granted the extension while offering their own thoughts. Rick Ingram conceded that an additional two weeks would not be unreasonable, provided that group members thought they could make progress.

That’s a big if.

“I see no evidence that you’re on the verge of consensus,” said Ingram, who has attended all nine working meetings of the group.

Byers encouraged the group to come up with something concrete, some sort of recommendation to help the board as it faces continued financial uncertainty from the state. Byers was one of three current board members who were on the previous board that formed the working group, appointed its members and charged it with drawing up a plan for consolidating schools.

“A decision is going to be made, with your recommendation or without it,” Byers said. “Not to put pressure on you, (but) it’s not a threat. It’s just the reality that we’re in. I want to make sure you understand that.”

Dawn Shew, a representative from Kennedy on the working group, assured board members that the work would continue. All of the six school’s representatives have forwarded plans for consideration by the larger group, set to be discussed again during the group’s meeting next week.

And even though members haven’t even discussed voting, she said, members are emotionally invested in the process.

“I think you’ll get good rationale from the group,” Shew said. “Even if we don’t all agree, we definitely have thought through the issues.”

The group also gained a new member. Board members appointed Shannon Criss to serve as a representative of Hillcrest, replacing Donna Osness, who left the advisory group for personal reasons.

Criss, who has a daughter in fifth grade at Hillcrest, is an associate professor of architecture, design and planning at Kansas University.

Last month, two others joined the group as representatives of Kennedy: Shonda Anderson and Samantha Cady replaced Stella Murphy and Amy Scrivner, who had departed because of personal committments.

Comments

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

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. Yes we can do this.

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notorious_agenda 2 years, 3 months ago

Close kennedy. Its an easy choice representatives keep dropping off and being replaced.

If they don't care enough about the school to be representatives for the duration. Its obvious the school at the top of the list for closing.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

There is a good possibility that USD 497 cannot afford to put forth a bond issue to build new buildings. Closing schools may not be an option. Topeka,Kansas may well dictate our options. Sam Brownback tax increases are coming our way in the form of new local taxes. That's his plan. Yes Sam Brownback wants to kill the source for 50% of the state budget.

Always allow the voters to 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 we are the stakeholders!

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Always allow the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. We are the only stakeholders in this discussion.

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 are the only stakeholders and do pay the bills after all. This is our decision so we taxpayers aka stakeholders need options not dictates from the bench.

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. Yes we can do this.

*http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/oct/how_should_school_district_pay_20_million_maintena/

*http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/oct/22/school-priorities/#c1027186

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? This is a tough one however USD 497 budgets $4 -$4.5 million annually for bus transportation.

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 BOE know how taxpayers want their money spent? How many options do we want?

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

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.

As for what USD 497 BOE should do. Wait!

Before closing schools and building new ones USD 497 public school teachers pay needs to move to the front burner.

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.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. It is the voters who pay the bills not the school board.

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 our teaching staff and our tax dollars is an art. I vote for teacher salaries! USD 497 Teachers have been taking a hit for too many years.

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