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.