Parents, students speak out against closure of Broken Arrow Elementary School

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Broken Arrow parent Kiley Phelps addresses the school board and district administrators during the public hearing to close Broken Arrow Elementary on March 25, 2023.

Lawrence school district leaders heard comments from more than 30 people on Saturday as part of a public hearing for the closure of Broken Arrow Elementary, and many of the commenters called on the board to consider the impact on students and to look at other cuts.

About 100 people attended the hearing, and many rallied outside against closing the school ahead of the meeting. The district’s as-yet untouched administrative budget under this year’s proposed budget reductions; the impact of the closure on the students and the neighborhood; and the short-sightedness of the decision given anticipated growth related to the new Panasonic plant in nearby De Soto were all common themes.

Broken Arrow parent Alex Landazuri noted the number and pay of district administrators, and asked board members why they were closing schools and eliminating teachers but not cutting administrators. He said if the board were to take percentage salary reduction from the district’s top earners, it would not need to close schools.

“If we can’t afford to keep schools, if we can’t afford to keep teachers, we can’t afford to keep administrators at the current level they are being paid at,” Landazuri said.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Broken Arrow parent Alex Landazuri addresses the school board during the school closing hearing for Broken Arrow school on March 25, 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Members of the public attend the school closing hearing for Broken Arrow Elementary School on March 25, 2023.

As the Journal-World reported, the district’s central office has 21 administrators, with total salary expenditures totaling $2.3 million, amounting to an average administrative salary of about $109,400. A few additional administrators work in the district’s facilities and maintenance campus, amounting to additional salary costs.

Several speakers also said that the school district is willfully ignoring the anticipated growth with the Panasonic plant that is currently under construction east of Lawrence in nearby De Soto and expected to increase populations throughout the area. Broken Arrow parent Kevin Elliott said the district’s enrollment projections ignored Panasonic to justify closing eastern and southern Lawrence schools.

“The school board manufactured the statistics you wanted,” Elliott said. “It didn’t fit in your scenario to include Panasonic, so you just dismissed it.”

Raquan Hoffer also spoke to the anticipated population growth due to the Panasonic plant, and said that the community has an opportunity to make Lawrence a place where people want to live. Hoffer said that calls for administrative cuts have been ignored and that closing schools, especially on the eastern side of the city, hurts the district’s ability to attract new families.

“We have new industry coming to this area that will directly benefit this area of the city,” Hoffer said. “But preemptively closing this school and not allowing this area to be attractive, dropping our property values, will be detrimental to our community.”

As the Journal-World recently reported, though enrollment projections provided to the school board in January predicted that the district would lose about 300 students over the next five years, three residential developments have advanced since then that the district-hired consultant did not include at all on its calculus for additional students. According to the consultant’s anticipated student yield rates, the Journal-World calculated that the hundreds of homes and apartments that are planned would add between roughly 100 and 200 students to the district.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

School Board President Shannon Kimball, Vice President Paula Vann, Past President Erica Hill, and board members Carole Cadue-Blackwood and Kay Emerson listen to public comment during the hearing to close Broken Arrow Elementary on March 25, 2023.

Almost all of the speakers also spoke to the school community that would be broken up with the closure and the proposed boundary shifts, and the effect on the neighborhood. Broken Arrow fourth-grader and student council member Piper Phelps said that like the school board, she was elected by her peers to represent them. Piper said that the proposal to close Broken Arrow did not add up to her.

“My teachers, my mom and (Broken Arrow Principal) Ms. Green have said to always speak up when we see something that is hurting others,” Piper said. “If you close my school, it will not just hurt me and my friends, but it will also hurt the community around Broken Arrow.”

The proposed boundary changes would divide Broken Arrow’s approximately 220 students among five schools: Cordley, Langston Hughes, Prairie Park, Schwegler and Sunflower. Many parents commented that the area around Broken Arrow was among the densest student areas on the district’s student heat maps, and that many children walk and bike to school.

Broken Arrow parent Paul Radley said that the school was a community and that there was continuity that ran through the neighborhood to the school’s hallways.

“We are talking about taking that away, drawing boundaries, and separating the building,” Radley said. “… What we are proposing now is a divide.”

Radley added that the district has spoken to problem solving, but part of that was identifying the correct problem, and that the district has a systemic problem of making the wrong choices.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Lawrence school Superintendent Anthony Lewis, far left, and the Lawrence school board open the public hearing for the closure of Broken Arrow Elementary on March 25, 2023.

At the opening of the meeting, Superintendent Anthony Lewis spoke to the district’s budget challenges in the wake of declining enrollment in recent years. Lewis said the district couldn’t continue to operate in the same manner.

“We have kicked the can down the road, previous boards have kicked the can down the road, previous superintendents have kicked the can down the road,” Lewis said. “Since I got here five years ago, we’ve been kicking the can down the road, and it’s getting heavier and heavier.”

Lewis said that he understood the difficulty of a decision to close a school, and that it is not taken lightly. He said though he recognized the loss it represented, the broader goal was to improve the education of the district’s students.

“We know that this is an emotional decision,” Lewis said. “We acknowledge that there will be loss. We acknowledge that there will be hurt.”

Lewis said that the potential use of Broken Arrow included extending adjacent Billy Mills Middle School and locating a center to serve Native American students.

The school closures were proposed as part of a budget reduction package meant to free up money for teacher and staff raises, address rising costs and allocate money for the district’s reserve fund. The board already approved reducing middle and high school staff by 50 teachers. The district estimates closing one elementary school would save $300,000 to $400,000 annually.

The Lawrence school board will consider the potential school closures and boundary shifts related to the closures at its meeting Monday, March 27. The board can choose to close one, both or none of the schools. The public can also provide comment on the closures as part of Monday’s meeting.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Eve Anderson and her two sons hold signs in front of Broken Arrow Elementary ahead of the school closure hearing on March 25, 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Angie West addresses the Lawrence school board during the school closure hearing for Broken Arrow on March 25, 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

A student writes in chalk on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the school ahead of the hearing to close Broken Arrow on March 25, 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

A sign from the rally preceding the school closure hearing at Broken Arrow is left in the hallway of the school during the school closure hearing. Signs were not allowed in the hearing itself.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Families rally in front of Broken Arrow Elementary ahead of the school closure hearing on March 25, 2023.


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