Members of the Lawrence school board apparently are basing at least part of their decision to seek a bond issue next April on an assumption that many local residents might question.
That assumption recently was expressed by board member Bob Byers.
“The reality is that the community has made it clear that they want all schools open,” he said. “Now it’s time for the community to take the next step. If they’re open, we need to fix them up.”
Byers was referring to the decision to seek bond funds to repair and improve district elementary schools, based on the premise that “the community” has decided it wants to keep all of those schools open. That opinion seems like a leap of logic based on the work of two recent elementary school task forces.
The first of those task forces, the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, was the closest the district came to asking the community as a whole to grapple with the question of consolidating elementary schools in Lawrence. It was made up of about 20 members who represented a broad spectrum of community interests: businesspeople, parents, community leaders and others. The final report issued by that group in February 2011 recommended that the district close Wakarusa Valley School and move toward consolidating six other elementary schools into three or four within three to five years. The conclusion of that group was not “they want all the schools open.”
The other task force, the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Group, was a much narrower group, made up only of representatives of elementary schools that were being considered for consolidation — a group that might be expected to be dead set against school closings. However, even that group failed to reach a clear consensus on not closing any schools in the report it issued in February 2012. Thirteen members of the 28-member group voted to keep all 14 elementary schools open, but 11 members supported a recommendation that kept closing schools as a valid option and urged the board to develop a long-term vision to address English as a Second Language services, school boundaries and facility upgrades.
The question is: On what basis can the Lawrence school board now assume that “the community has made it clear that they want all schools open”? The only possible basis seems to be that Lawrence voters elected a school board that now has decided that is what the community wants.
Even if the community would like to keep all the elementary schools open, it certainly remains to be seen whether local taxpayers are willing to approve a bond issue that one board member said might reach $90 million to $100 million. Maybe he was estimating high to make the final total look better. By comparison, the last bond issue passed for the Lawrence district was $63 million in 2005 for renovation work at seven schools and technology upgrades.
Probably the best way to find out what community members really want is to ask them to pay for it. It looks like board members are planning to give voters an opportunity to answer that question next April.