Posts tagged with Lawrence School Board

Lawrence schools at a tipping point

The Lawrence school district is fast reaching the point where it needs to make some decisions about how to handle future growth.

That was a common thread running through a number of discussions at the school board meeting Monday night. Much of it was brought on by the sudden and unexpected enrollment growth the grade schools are seeing this year, especially on the city's west side.

This may be an uncomfortable conversation for some people in the district. After all, it was only a few years ago when Lawrence closed the Wakarusa and East Heights grade schools. And more recently, there was serious talk about closing and consolidating older schools on the east side to save money and make more efficient use of space.

But the public ultimately balked at that idea. People in Lawrence like their small neighborhood schools, and there seems to be no desire to shift toward so-called "mega schools" at the elementary level.

The result of those conversations was the $92.5 million bond issue that voters just approved in April.

Then came the first day of school this year, and the enrollment numbers really caught officials off guard - not the overall growth, so much, as the places where it occurred. But even looking at the district-wide numbers, it's clear the Lawrence district is close to reaching a tipping point where it will have to make some hard choices.

According to the latest projections from the district's consultant, RSP and Associates, total elementary enrollment has increased by 127 students over the past two years. Between now and the 2017-18 school year, they project another 233 students. That's 360 students additional over six years, or basically one entire average-size grade school.

And it's only a matter of time until those 360 elementary students move on to middle school and high school. Right now, South and Southwest middle schools, as well as Free State High School, are close to being filled to capacity.

Based on discussions across several agenda items at Monday's board meeting, here are some of the grand policy questions the district will soon have to grapple with:

Boundaries: Board president Rick Ingram says the district needs a clearer policy about studying, and possibly making adjustments to, attendance zone boundaries on an ongoing basis. While some buildings are expected to grow beyond their capacity over the next few years, others still have excess room. A nip here and a tuck there could prevent, or at least delay, the need for costly new construction in the future. But Superintendent Rick Doll says that will only get you so far, unless you want to draw boundaries that require small children to have to walk across 23rd Street or Iowa Street during rush hour.

"Mega schools": Nobody seems to like them, and it's nice living in a town with small, neighborhood schools where the teachers and parents all know each other and there is a real sense of community. Board vice president Shannon Kimball indicated she has no desire to move in that direction. But at what cost does the district stay with the small-school approach?

Build more small schools: It may have seemed unrelated at the time, but one of the other things the board did Monday was sell 2.31 acres of land to the state to make way for a South Lawrence Trafficway interchange at Bob Billings Parkway. That's right next door to Langston Hughes school, the largest, and soon-to-be over-capacity, grade school in the district.

The interchange is needed because of new development in that area that is already being planned, and some people expect the interchange itself will spur even more new development west of the SLT. Add to that the SLT extension about to be built on the southeast side, which no doubt will spur even more commercial and residential development, and you have the makings of two large, new growth areas.

If the idea of "mega schools" is off the table, at some point the district has to look at building at least a couple new grade schools, and probably another middle school as well.

Closer planning: Board member Keith Diaz Moore - who surely set a long-distance record for telecommuting to a board meeting because he was took part via Skype while on sabbatical in Sweden - suggested the district might be overreacting to a one-time spike in enrollment. Go ahead and build the new rooms the district knows it needs right now, he suggested, but hold off on the others until we see some more reliable long-term enrollment trends.

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  • Reply 19 comments from Amy Gottschamer Mollie New Leaf Jayhawklawrence Consumer1 Peter Houston Elizabeth Halsey Dee66044 Richard Heckler Jim Schilling 3up3down and 9 others

    Why are graduations in the middle of the week?

    Apparently there has been some amount of grumbling among parents and others about the fact that the Lawrence school district is holding high schol graduation ceremonies in the middle of the week this year.

    For some people, that may cause problems, especially for parents who typically work evening shifts, and those who want to invite all the aunts and uncles and grandparents to travel from out of town so they can take part in a family celebration.

    Double that for families that have students in both Lawrence and Free State high schools,

    But the decision to hold this year's ceremonies on Tuesday and Wednesday - as opposed to back-to-back ceremonies on either a Saturday or Sunday - was actually made more than a year ago. And school district officials say it came in response to a multitude of other problems that arose from all the other alternatives.

    It seems to be another case that shows how negotiating school district calendars is sometimes only slightly less complicated than negotiating peace in the Middle East.

    In years past, the schools used to have back-to-back ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. But that changed a few years ago when the high schools got their own football stadiums. Since then, they've held separate graduations on their own "home turf," so to speak. That pretty much requires holding them on separate days.

    The Lawrence school board actually made the decision about this year's dates more than a year ago, at its April 9, 2012, meeting, after hearing a report from Free State principal Ed West and Lawrence High principal Matt Brungardt.

    The decision was reported in the Journal-World the following day.

    "The high schools have been challenged in the past to schedule a date for graduation that avoids conflicts with Kansas University," the principals said in a memo to the board. "The school administrators also feel strongly that graduation should closely follow the last day of classes for seniors."

    So the two schools formed a committee to explore all the options and make a recommendation to the school board. Basically, it boiled down to this:

    The last day for seniors was Thursday, May 16. KU's graduation was set for the following Sunday, May 19, with Monday the 20th reserved as a back-up date.

    That left Tuesday and Wednesday, the 21st and 22nd, as the next available days.

    It's still not certain, however, whether the district will follow the same pattern in future years.

    "The committee operated under the presumption that the dates were being recommended for next year (2013) only and no precedence (sic) for future years was being set," the memo said. "If the events go well next year and weekday graduations continue, both principals feel a consistent and permanent plan would be best."

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  • Reply 13 comments from Havecents Gatekeeper Midwestmom Fatarnie Jhawk1998 Lori Christopher Taylor Mark Thompson Midwest_muser Amac

    Public must wait for finance reports in school elections

    Although candidates and political action committees active in the Lawrence city commission races have filed campaign finance statements, the public will have to wait until December to learn who is contributing to school board candidates and a campaign promoting the district's $92.5 million bond proposal.

    Benjamin Lampe, deputy of elections in the Douglas County Clerk's office, said that's because Kansas statutes treat the two kinds of elections differently.

    The Kansas Campaign Finance Act only applies to elections for state offices, cities of the first class and school school districts with more than 35,000 students - which is to say, the Wichita school district. That law requires filing periodic reports leading up to an election and 30 days after the election.

    But campaigns for board seats and ballot initiatives involving all other school districts fall under a different statute, K.S.A. 25-901, which only requires them to file an annual report on or before Dec. 31 each year.

    Furthermore, Lampe said, three of the four candidates running for the school board this year - Kristie Adair, Bob Byers and Vanessa Sanburn - have already filed notices that they'll be exempt from having to file reports because they intend to raise and spend less than $500 on their campaigns. That means Adina Morse is the only candidate who will have to file a year-end report.

    Sanburn also is working actively with Yes for Lawrence, which stated publicly that it raised about $600 on the first day the committee organized. Other committee members said the group hopes to raise and spend about $15,000 in support of the $92.5 million bond proposal.

    Yes for Lawrence is co-chaired by Rep. Paul Davis, the Kansas House Democratic leader, and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a Republican. The committee recently began running a TV commercial supporting the bond proposal.

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