Four scenarios surface as possibilities for consolidating elementary schools

Members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group — including, seated at table, from right, Josh Davis, Alison Nye, Stella Murphy, Chris Lempa and others — listen as facilitators outline various scenarios suggested for consideration. The presentation, during a meeting Nov. 21, 2011, included discussions of where students might go under a variety of options for consolidating elementary schools.

Ideas are emerging for consolidating elementary schools in the Lawrence school district, including two ideas that would combine New York and Kennedy schools at an expanded, and possibly relocated, site of the former East Heights School.

Representatives from four schools met a Sunday deadline for submitting initial scenarios for discussion next week by the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group.

The group is charged with recommending a plan, by the end of January, for reducing a list of six elementary schools to either three or four within the next couple of years. The candidates for consolidation are Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill schools.

The working group is made up of smaller subgroups, representing each of the consolidation candidates, plus Woodlawn School.

Kennedy’s subgroup met Sunday and “hammered out” a scenario that would close both Kennedy and New York, with hopes for seeing that a new, larger school — either at or adjacent to East Heights, which closed in 2003, became an early-childhood center and now is home to Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence programs — would allow for inclusion of a full-time nurse, a full-time social worker, a full-time assistant principal and other needs.

“It’s tough. It’s really tough,” said Tim Laurent, a member of the working group representing Kennedy, where his wife and two older children attended; his youngest child is now in fourth grade there. “I don’t think any of us are exceptionally happy: ‘Yeah, let’s close Kennedy. Let’s close New York.’

“If we had our druthers, it’d be, ‘Let’s keep both of those open and get the kids the resources they need.’ But that wasn’t the charge.”

Earlier this year, the Lawrence school board formed the working group to recommend a consolidation plan — itself an outgrowth from a community task force that suggested consolidation as the best way to provide quality elementary education during challenging budget times.

Monday night, members of the overall working group will discuss four consolidation scenarios that came from four of the subgroups representing particular schools, as follows:

• Kennedy: Close Kennedy and New York and consolidate the bulk of those students — all of Kennedy’s and most of New York’s — at a new school, which would be built on a site at or near the former East Heights School, 1430 Haskell Ave. Hillcrest and Sunset Hill would be combined at an expanded or new school at the Sunset Hill site, with some of Hillcrest’s English as a Second Language students being sent to Cordley, which also would be expanded.

• Pinckney: Essentially the same recommendation as Kennedy’s group, with one major difference: While Kennedy would retain Kennedy’s early-childhood program by including it at the new school, Pinckney’s group would recommend moving those kids to one of the two school buildings recommended for closure: Hillcrest or New York. Another possibility: Instead of calling for construction of a new school, the district could close New York and split those kids between Kennedy and Pinckney.

• Sunset Hill: Expand Sunset Hill, which the school’s representatives say could be accomplished without disruption to the existing school, while closing Pinckney, a site considered too small for expansion and whose students would move to Hillcrest. An expanded Sunset Hill also would welcome some students from Sunflower, easing enrollment pressures there. Broken Arrow could become a site for English as a Second Language students. The Sunset Hill group did not suggest any other schools to be consolidated.

• Hillcrest: Expand Hillcrest so that it could accommodate more students, which would come from Sunset Hill. Others from Sunset Hill could be sent to Quail Run School. The group did not identify any other schools to be consolidated.

Subgroups from Cordley and New York schools have not turned in potential scenarios.

While Laurent acknowledges that the “Kennedy Proposal” might work — “We wouldn’t have put it together if we didn’t think it at least made some sense,” he said — the ideas it contains simply are intended to serve as an opportunity to begin discussions that, until now, have been focused more on process and less on possibilities.

“It’s just one proposal,” Laurent said. “We definitely want to hear (from others). I’m very interested in what the other groups come up with.

“There’s a lot of smart people in that room. I want to see what they have to say.”

The overall working group meets at 7 p.m. next Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.