Archive for Sunday, October 21, 2012

Editorial: Narrow focus

October 21, 2012


The Lawrence school district already has staged its first two “pre-bond issue planning” meetings in preparation for seeking what one board member estimated might be a $90 million to $100 million bond issue.

According to the district’s website that announced 16 such meetings, the Lawrence school board has decided to put the bond question on the April 2, 2013, ballot “Following an elementary facilities study and acting upon recommendations of two community task forces…”

Unfortunately, the path the school board appears to be following really doesn’t conform with the recommendations of those two community task forces. The first task force, the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, clearly recommended in February 2011 that one elementary school, Wakarusa Valley, be closed immediately and that the district move toward consolidating six other elementary schools into three or four buildings within three to five years. The second task force was the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. Even though that group was made up almost entirely of representatives of the six schools being considered for consolidation, nearly half of its members concluded in February 2012 that closing schools was a valid option and urged the board to develop a long-term vision to address English as a Second Language programs, school boundaries and facility upgrades.

Why, then, is the school district now holding meetings that are focused only on upgrades for existing buildings with no consideration of a long-term strategy that includes consolidating schools?

Gould Evans Associates was hired by the district to survey district buildings, paying special attention to the needs of older elementary schools in central and East Lawrence — the same schools that at one time were being considered for consolidation. Apparently the design firm has been told only to look at upgrades, not any plans for consolidation.

During a meeting last week at Pinckney School, a Gould Evans representative noted that the school doesn’t have enough electrical outlets to support computers and other technology that now are part of many classrooms. A neighborhood resident also raised another valid issue: “Having a 4,000-square-foot library is awesome,” he said, “but we’re barely able to put a librarian into them.”

These are two issues that many local residents, even some with children in elementary school, might think would be better addressed by building new schools rather than pouring more money into older buildings. New buildings could be built to support new technology needs, and it’s easier to justify staff, like librarians, for newer elementary schools that serve two or three times as many students as some of the district’s older buildings.

The point is, before committing to a huge bond issue focused almost exclusively on fixing up old elementary schools, both the school board and local voters deserve an opportunity to see how that money could be spent — perhaps better spent — on buildings that address the district’s future needs.


buffalo63 5 years, 7 months ago

The point I would agree with the editor is "long-term strategy" and "to see how the money will be spent". Before I would even consider voting YES on a bond issue, these two issues would have to be answered satisfactorily. Right now I don't think we have the leadership to accomplish this.

Windemere 5 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for making very valid points in this editorial. Clearly, the Board and district administrators ran into what they perceived as a buzz saw when they tried to further discussions on closing schools. It will be a shame and a disservice to school kids if the loudest voices drive policy instead of the most prudent, rational voices. Concerned people ought to speak up about this issue. Please, Board, don't take the path of least resistance, but rather the best path for our kids and community.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Plan B

--- Put the USD 497 admin building on the market. Buying this building was not popular among taxpayers. What’s up with East Heights?

--- Sell off the new 76 acres of unimproved land which was purchased @ $23,000 an acre as an investment so to speak according to Scott Morgan.

The city and county agreed to reduce their mill levies such that took place when a bond issue was going before voters to build Free State High school according to a April 2,2001 LJW article. Mike Wildgen was city manager at that time.

City Hall and City Commissioners should put some of their high dollar projects on the back burner until our schools are brought back to life.

Forget consolidation most of those on that group did not want to do that. IT is not a good plan and will not save money.

If a bond issue is submitted and fails what then? USD 497 simply cannot ignore the situation any longer. This rehab work probably should have commenced 15 years ago. An existing Plan B set to go would display fiscal and political savvy in the eyes of taxpayers. What a novel idea and one that would be respected.

How should the school district pay for a maintenance backlog in elementary schools? Take our time and do it right How? We must consider existing tax dollars going to the capitol outlay funds over a period years.

USD 497 2011 Facilities and Maintenance Capital Outlay Priorities suggests(?) $6,440,000 could be spent perhaps annually towards the rehab projects.

Any further spending on the PLAY sports project may need to be curtailed in order to support the rehab project. Taxpayer owned properties aka elementary school buildings cannot be neglected further.

School Priorities

One might consider including Plan B on the ballot in order to secure or lock in the Plan B. Thus preventing a different USD 497 BOD from cutting off the project.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, I have to say I agree with you. While some still see consolidation as a viable option, I cannot believe that it is good for our students. Elementary schools should not have more than about 300 students. Middle schools can have about 700. High schools can vary, but should have the average class be about 25 in a large school district like Lawrence. This is what I have observed as a student and as a future educator. Closing usable schools in favor of large, new ones is not fiscally responsible. Not to mention that Pinckney is currently the oldest building in USD 497. Shouldn't that have historical significance? The classic look of the building matches the houses in Old West Lawrence and the ones north of 6th down the street from the school. Why build a brand new school that is unnecessary and looks out of place? To answer your question about East Heights, it has been given to the Boys and Girls Club for after school program space. With the last three school closures (Centennial, East Heights, Wakarusa Valley), Lawrence simply repurposed the building within the district. I believe they still own East Heights. So no money is being saved by closing buildings. Centennial and Wakarusa Valley still require staff, technology, and utilities for being the virtual schools. Who's to say that another school being closed wouldn't be repurposed in a similar way? We need to look at more than just closing a school as the answer to problems. Buildings need to be upgraded, technology needs to be improved for 21st century classrooms, and probably boundaries need to be adjusted to even out class sizes across the district. How many boundaries were adjusted after the closings of East Heights and Wakarusa Valley? Other schools took in those students, but students who had been in those school before were not adjusted to allow for changes. While changing schools is tough on children, shouldn't we make sure that they at least get a good education despite having to change? I observed several school changes growing up. Every few years my district would (and has recently) made adjustments based on growth. To my knowledge they have only closed one school in the last 20 years. Lawrence has closed many more than that. The Kansas Dept. of Education has that information on file. Consolidation seems to be the answer to everything here. It's high time they tried something else.

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