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Archive for Sunday, September 30, 2012

Editorial: School assumption

There’s little evidence to support the Lawrence school board’s contention that the community already has reached consensus on keeping all of its elementary schools open.

September 30, 2012

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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.

Comments

kuguardgrl13 2 years, 2 months ago

You say the "community" is not unanimous in the decision to keep schools open and that the last task force was a narrow sampling of Lawrence. What is wrong with a group that has a vested interest looking over the situation. Could parents from Langston Hughes or Sunflower make unbiased decisions regarding Kennedy or New York? You also forget that Wakarusa Valley has not been the only school closing in recent years. East Heights was also closed, moving those students to Kennedy and New York. Can taxpayers who have no students involved make an unbiased decision that doesn't involve looking at their wallets? I am happy that the school board is choosing to move forward with the idea of no school closings for the time being. Ask any parents or student from Wakarusa Valley how that affects learning and socialization. And looking at the closings of Wakarusa Valley and Centennial, USD 497 does not always close a school and rid itself of the building. Those two are still in use in other capacities. So it is safe to say that the district would still use other school buildings if they were closed as schools. That being said, the facilities still need to be kept up. We as a community need to provide our students with quality facilities that facilitate a strong learning environment. If the roof leaks and the playground is rusty, we're not doing right by them. So find a bit of compassion for the kids in the neighborhood or across town who are trying to get an education and make something of themselves. They will be taxpaying citizens someday. They'll look back on this in 20 years and say either, "the community gave me a great school that served me well," or "geez, that place was a dump." I may not have been around Lawrence for very long or have a vested interest in a particular school, but I'll loosen my purse strings a bit today to invest for the long term.

Sue McDaniel 2 years, 2 months ago

Voting no.......too many decisions made with emotions and not if we can afford it. The entire country isdoing it.

New2KU 2 years, 2 months ago

I agree with the point to the article, not all of Lawrence is in assumption that this would be the best approach. The overall goal of providing the best opportunity for our youth to acquire the best education possible should be kept close in mind. The school board had better detail out exactly what and how they plan to improve our schools. I am curious as to what improvements were made with the last bond issue in 2005. Now is NOT the time for the board to make assumptions.

Steve Jacob 2 years, 2 months ago

Let's not forget the good old days of 2005, when the last school bond passed.. Way back then, our houses where worth a lot more, and you could sell it easy, and unemployment was still around 5%.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

Too many previous USD 497 BOE chose to neglect taxpayer owned public school buildings. This was an unethical and irresponsible agenda. These properties and taxpayers demand this policy never again be be allowed in the arena. It is wasteful and reckless.

Those task forces were not in favor of closing schools. They were forced to come around to a decision that might reflect such nonsense. That's right. This task force was going to be held in session until such nonsense appeared to be the decision.

In essence the task force was not allowed to vote in a different perspective because that was not the objective of the task force. Very Chamber of Commerce like.

One aspect I did not care for was that the person also a developer who sold USD 497 75 acres of unimproved land at $23,000 an acre was allowed to sit in ...... an obvious conflict of interest. Certainly not a wise investment for the taxpayers.

In fact since it is the developers building a need for more schools they should be also donating land and financing the new buildings without any sort of tax credits or other incentives. USD 497 should not be buying any land.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

Developers do understand that nearby parks,public schools,fire stations,rec centers and hiking paths make their residential projects worth more money.... the bottom line. As we taxpayers are forced to subsidize their large profit ventures.

I have not seen or heard of from any parents from any neighborhood demanding that neighborhood elementary schools be shut down or be a thing of the past. Parents aka USD 497 taxpayers have voiced the need for neighborhood elementary schools so they may WALK and/or BIKE with their children to school.

The local Chamber of Commerce thinking is once again out in left field on this matter.

Again too many previous USD 497 BOE chose to neglect taxpayer owned public school buildings. This was an unethical and irresponsible agenda. These properties and taxpayers demand this policy never again be be allowed in the arena. It is wasteful and reckless.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

I support Bob Byers!!!!

"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.”

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

Maybe it is time for city hall and city commissioners to put many of their "wishes" aside for a few years to keep our taxes and future budgets in check. An increase in the budget is a tax increase. You will see more tax increases on the latest CC agenda.

We need public education. We need to maintain the buildings. I say city hall needs to cut back!

We don't need further saturation of the retail markets.

We don't need more reckless spending on community sports project known as PLAY. USD 497 under the previous BOE spent $20 million on this PLAY project. Enough is enough.

weeslicket 2 years, 2 months ago

i would suggest that the problem is not so hard to comprehend. the district can't close any more schools because there isn't enough room left in any other schools for those students who would be displaced.

(since i've been in town, usd497 had closed: kaw valley, grant, india, riverside, east heights, centennial, and wakarusa. and built: prairie park, sunflower, and langston. and we've had 5 superintendents.)

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

Didn't we lose some of the incumbent school board member candidates who supported closing schools during the last election? That vote would be a strong public opinion supporting keeping all schools open. The old school board pushed to establish the committee with the directive to close schools before the new school board members would be seated. The committee formed was a snake pit for those people who had to decide which of their schools would be cut. The new school board worked with the committee and decided that it could not possibly be productive. In fact, the committee came back with split recommendations.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 2 months ago

What's missing from this discussion is what is best for the kids. Kids develop their sense of community gradually. It starts in the crib, expands to the house, to the yard, to the neighborhood, and to the city. This takes years. By sending kids to a school that is not part of their developing world disrupts their sense of community and security.

By maintaining a neighborhood concept, the neighborhood supports the school, its part of the kids' evolving world, and there is a strength that promotes learning.

As liberal as I am, I never thought bussing or other socio-economic strategies were beneficial. We used them, because we could not get a grip on equity and stil cannot. There should be a middle school on the southeast side, for example, and northern neighborhoods should not have to struggle with logical borders always changing, What happened to education and kids as a priority in education?

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