Archive for Tuesday, March 6, 2012

School closings to still be addressed

Members of the Lawrence school board, from left, are Mark Bradford, president, Vanessa Sanburn, vice president, Shannon Kimball, Bob Byers, Keith Diaz Moore, Randy Masten and Rick Ingram.

Members of the Lawrence school board, from left, are Mark Bradford, president, Vanessa Sanburn, vice president, Shannon Kimball, Bob Byers, Keith Diaz Moore, Randy Masten and Rick Ingram.

March 6, 2012


Members of the Lawrence school board agreed that they would have to vote on whether or not to consolidate the district’s elementary schools. They just weren’t ready to vote on the issue Monday night and don’t expect to be at the next meeting.

A week after receiving two recommendations from a group that had been tasked with looking at how to best close the district’s smallest elementary schools, board members rattled off questions they wanted to have answered before making any decisions.

At the top of the board’s concerns are the future of the district’s English as a Second Language program, and which schools are well-suited for expansions and which ones aren’t.

“At some point, we are going to have to get to point of are we doing this or not. I don’t think we can beg away from it,” board member Bob Byers said on the decision to close schools.

For six months the board-assigned Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Group studied ways 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 recommended to keep school closures as a valid option, but they didn’t want to name which buildings to close.

For Byers, there were three possible outcomes: to consolidate and expand current schools, build nothing and update the current schools, or consolidate and build new schools.

Before making those decisions, some board members said they would like to see more information about the cost of upgrading buildings.

“We need to have a detailed look, not a cursory look,” Randy Masten said.

But others said some kind of decision would have to be made before architects begin to look at the costs of expanding facilities.

“We need to push ourselves to make the decision without all the data,” said Keith Diaz Moore, who is a board member and an architecture professor at Kansas University. “We aren’t going to have all the answers before making those decisions.”

Board President Mark Bradford said once members had feedback from some of the questions posed Monday night, options would be eliminated. But he didn’t see that happening at next week’s meeting.

“(The working group) couldn’t do it with many, many more weeks of discussion and cussing that we had,” Bradford said.


Patty Buchholz 5 years, 9 months ago

I would remind board members that the job they chose to run for and were elected to do involves difficult decisions at times. They need to remember that these decisions involve the entire community and ALL children in Lawrence, not just a small group of folks who choose to think the only thing that matters is their children's school and whether they can walk to that building or not.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 9 months ago

And let me guess-- your kids' school isn't on the proposed list of closings, and you and your kids never walk anywhere.

spiderd 5 years, 9 months ago

While I'm sure the board appreciates your reminder, your gross oversimplification of what is an extremely complicated topic isn't helping anyone. I suggest you study up before you start running around with a machete in your hand, just as the board has intelligently decided to do.

Chris Lempa 5 years, 9 months ago

I'd like to point out that I was a community member on the Consolidation Working Group. I don't have children. I made my decision based on what I thought was best for "the entire community and ALL children in Lawrence."

You are right to point out that this was a difficult decision. I found it especially difficult being a member of the group that didn't have a child or a long-term attachment to a certain school.

aryastark1984 5 years, 9 months ago

The working group was given a task that turned out to be based on faulty assumptions: a) that there was lots of excess capacity in the schools slated for closure b) that growth on the east side was flat or declining. Both of these assumptions proved false. Yet, the group persevered and examined a number of different closing scenarios. None of these scenarios proved to be workable. All would involve a series of boundary changes that would affect almost all schools in the district.

I think the best decision for the "entire community" and the "difficult decision" that needs to be made is to say. "We were wrong. This makes no sense. We need to undo the damage of years of neglect"

Kookamooka 5 years, 9 months ago

Why not convert the administration building (which houses people) into the big elementary they want consolidating Pinckney and Hillcrest at McDonald drive. Then...the administration can take over Pingkney and still have the space they need for professional development and not have to pay the extra principal and nurse (which really seems like the only reason they give for desiring the larger schools) No major construction costs. Or...would that thwart the desires of the developers? They'd have the change some boundaries, but they would have to do that anyway. Bussing will happen. Lots of it-so get used to the extra costs.

Jay Lovett 5 years, 9 months ago

The board will drag their feet until the last minute and then make a rash decision that is both unpopular and ineffective, choosing the worst and most expensive option as the punishment for the rest of us not telling them what exactly to do. The dwindling numbers of homeowners will again be asked to foot the bill for the costs.

Mike Myers 5 years, 9 months ago

" In the end, the group split in half". Actually Christine this should say that the group split into two groups, the majority believing that no schools should be closed. Saying the group split in half is incorrect. Please check your previous story and correct this.

ChristineMetz 5 years, 9 months ago

Hi Toto 12,

Thanks for your comments. You are right that the split wasn't exactly down the middle. Eleven voted for the proposal that wanted to keep closing schools a valid option, 13 voted for the option that would push for a bond and keep all 14 schools opened and two abstained. While it isn't exactly half, it's pretty close. If one person had voted differently, it would have been evenly divided. And, I think it is accurate to say that the majority of representatives from three schools supported one option and the majority of representatives from the three other schools supported the other option. So, if you looked at it in that regard it would be half. Regardless, I think half better conveys the outcome of the working group than saying a majority had reached a consensus, since that majority was a pretty slim one. Perhaps the best solution would be to use a qualifier, and state the group split roughly in half. Hope that helps explain why I use the words I did.


Mike Myers 5 years, 9 months ago

50% no way, 42% maybe, 8% I don't know...I rest my case.

patgilbey1 5 years, 9 months ago

hey usd 497...stop the schtick and have the guts to activate your ultimate plan. Get it over with and take us to the promised land.
I am amazed at the so called help from the public when professionals that are trained can't offer or fail to provide great leadership. Yes I am an angry, bitter Waky closure fatality.

so get on with it 497 stop the suffering,complaining and listening.

Synjyn Smythe 5 years, 9 months ago

How about this: fire Doll and hire a superintendent that is up to the job of gathering relevant information, appropriately advising the school board and making actual decisions? Why is this too much to ask? Why all the task forces? Does no one have the ability to gather useful information required by their job descriptions, or the spine to make a decision? Hiring Doll and closing Waky were, at best, ill advised. It's time to admit that, fire Doll, reopen Waky to address the present overcrowding issues and hire a superintendent that will assist the board in making some appropriate decisions about the future of this school district.

Melissa Isaacs 5 years, 9 months ago

Board President Mark Bradford said once members had feedback from some of the questions posed Monday night, options would be eliminated. But he didn’t see that happening at next week’s meeting. “(The working group) couldn’t do it with many, many more weeks of discussion and cussing that we had,” Bradford said. Ummm...the working group was gathering and synthesizing information so that you would be able to make a decision. I'm not saying the board shouldn't ask its own questions now, just that maybe they shouldn't have been sitting around so passively hoping the working group would drop the magic bullet into their laps.

Cassie Powell 5 years, 9 months ago

If closing Wakarusa would have actually saved money or brought about the desired results I could see considering closing or consolidating. However the school board should see closing Wakarusa is what has made the other schools overcrowded and understaffed. Closing or consolidating is not going to make anything better. I am a Pinckney mom, but not because I am supposed to be in that schools area. I transferred my child close to my job, so I could have lunch with my child and be close in the event anything happens while my child is at school needing me to be at the school. Anyone can apply for a transfer, so boundary changes don't really matter, I seriously doubt I am the only parent that was allowed to transfer. Focus needs to be on updating the buildings we have, Not putting moremoney into developers pockets. If new buildings do happen, at least consider keeping the money here in Lawrence, and hire someone local!!! Also, I drive my child to school, but several moms and dads I know, are already at work by the time their children walk to school, they walk because the moms/dads have found sitters close enough that are willing to walk with their kids, sometimes being close is a blessing. Another classmates mom walks because her car was hit by a drunk driver and she cannot afford to buy a new one or to have hers replaced, being 4 blocks from school has been a life saver for her.

USD497 I invite you to spend the day in the life of any school, talk to us parents and then make a decision.

streetman 5 years, 9 months ago

As a relatively new citizen of this rather strange town, I need a little education on this topic. A school was closed last year, and there is talk of closing more -- why? -- because there is too much school capacity for the number of children?? But if this is the case, then why is there now talk of possible expansion of existing schools -- even, apparently, if some are closed -- or even building a new school?? And if there is a surplus of classroom space, why are trailers used at some schools?? I've been trying to follow and understand this thing, but never see explanations for these apparent incongruities. Is there an ulterior motive in some quarters, which is why a better job communicating/explaining things isn't happening?

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 9 months ago

I also have trouble understanding how USD 497 works. They have closed more schools in 20 years than any district I have ever seen. Why choose to building lots of schools, let them go into disrepair, close those ones, and build new ones? Doesn't sound like a logical way to use tax dollars.

William Weissbeck 5 years, 9 months ago

This story could be written for almost any mid size school district somewhere in the country. Where I live now has a similar population and has 4 elementary, 4 middle and 1 HS. They have periodically moved 5th graders between elementary and middle to balance out. They conducted two expensive studies about whether to remodel the HS or split it into two. You never get a consensus on these things. To some, their only concern is money. To others, their concern is logistics. Others want to make sure they have the best facilities. Others don't want athletic teams split up. Others don't want to see their neighborhoods and property values reduced because they "are less desirable to young families." Boards have to make consensus and assume the risk it could make their jobs "unpleasant."

Clevercowgirl 5 years, 9 months ago

My family was transferred due to the closing of Wakarusa Valley School. I fail to see anyone who has benefited from this situation. Children were displaced and some were traumatized. The the receptor schools have been overcrowded. I have seen no increase in quality of education, services, outside educational opportunities, counseling, community, etc., etc., etc.. I have seen my kids go from a small class to a very large class where standardized achievement , not personal excellence is the goal. Not that I blame any teachers, the situation dictates this. But, I would strongly urge the Board to closely examine what actual savings were achieved by closing Wakarusa, and the current situation of the moved students, before voting to close any additional schools.

Clevercowgirl 5 years, 9 months ago

Question: Why doesen't the Board send a survey to the families that formerly went to Wakarusa? I'm sure that some very valuable input could be gleaned from this.

EJ Mulligan 5 years, 9 months ago

And: Why doesn't the LJW do a story about those families and receptor schools?

toosense 5 years, 9 months ago

Because you don't ask a question that you don't want to hear the answer to!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Moreover it is the courage of some BOE members and the school consolidation working group that suggest stepping back, to review the fact that further school closings may not be the answer.

Abby Hess put forth the thinking that our school buildings took a back seat to the the $20 million USD 497 tax dollars spent on the PLAY sports project which could have rehabilitated all of our elementary school facilities. I concur.

In essence our tax dollar investments have become victims of demolition by neglect when taxpayer owned property has not received the attention and care legally expected or required of the school district.

There has been talk of building a large building at 15th and Haskell. Let’s be reminded that taxpaying stakeholders and the school district own the public school building that currently exists on that site.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

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.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes, taxpayers have a certain stake in things, but this should really be about the students and their families. They are the ones most deeply affected by closings.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

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.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. That's right without we taxpayers there could be no tax dollar spending. USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.

What makes we voting taxpayers the primary stakeholders in any new building/construction or rehab project? Or school closings? Each one of us spend thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in this community without which USD 497 would be nothing. Yet we are cast aside under the facade that none of this is any of our business.

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