Firm maps out school consolidation group’s proposals

Rob Schwarz, a consultant with RSP, warned the community working group tasked with closing elementary schools in Lawrence that they were playing a game of chess. Move one piece, and the rest of the board shifts.

Two weeks ago, the group had forwarded on to RSP seven scenarios for closing or consolidating schools.

At a Monday night meeting, RSP, an educational planning firm based in the Kansas City area, came back with detailed maps on how three of those proposals would change boundaries, population numbers, English as second language clusters and the socio-economic mix of each school.

Langston Hughes and Woodlawn were the only two schools that didn’t see any boundary changes under the three scenarios. And Schwegler’s boundary would only shift under one proposal.

In every scenario, hundreds of the district’s students would end up attending a new school.

“It gives a whole lot of students the chance for a new school experience,” Cordley parent Chuck Epp said. “Put negatively, it moves a lot of kids around.”

The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group has been asked by the school board to reduce a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to either three or four within two years.

The three scenarios reviewed Monday were:

• Close New York and Kennedy and build a new school near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue.

• Close New York and send students to Cordley, Kennedy and Pinckney.

• Close Hillcrest and transfer students who speak English as a second language to Sunset Hill.

When considering what schools to close or consolidate, Schwarz said, the group was going to have to decide what to do with the district’s ESL clusters.

Right now, Hillcrest has 187 ESL students, and Cordley has 113. In the proposals to combine New York and Kennedy or to just close New York, the ESL students at Hillcrest would jump to 259. The number of students whose first language is English who live within Hillcrest boundaries would drop to between 50 and 70. That ratio left some group members uncomfortable.

But, other group members also didn’t like the idea of closing down Hillcrest and transferring what they considered to be a model ESL program to Sunset Hill.

Another major factor, Schwarz said, was looking at how much capacity the schools had left and which ones had room to grow.

Currently, Broken Arrow, Deerfield and Sunflower are at or approaching capacity. Then there are schools such as Prairie Park that are far below capacity. All three of the proposals on Monday had the Prairie Park boundary move south to pick up more students in the Broken Arrow school boundary. That was viewed as a positive change by many in the group.

ESL clusters and school capacity are key, Schwarz said.

“Until you address those issues, you are going to have difficulty in seeing what you want to see and ultimately, and you may not want to hear this, what is best for the district,” Schwarz said.

With four more proposals left to review and just two meetings remaining before the board’s Feb. 15 deadline, the group is short on time as it works to make a recommendation.

On Monday, Superintendent Rick Doll said that the group might be able to squeeze in an extra meeting between the deadline and when the school board would actually meet on Feb. 27.

The group will continue discussing scenarios at 7 p.m. Feb. 6.