Closing Hillcrest as opposed to other Lawrence elementary schools would not make much sense, boundary committee hears

photo by: Journal-World file photo

Hillcrest Elementary School, 1045 Hilltop Drive.

A scenario that would close Hillcrest Elementary School — as opposed to closing other elementary schools — would not make much sense, the Lawrence school district’s data director told a district committee Wednesday.

If the district chooses to close Hillcrest, students in its districtwide English language learning program could be sent to several other schools. However, doing so may not save the district as much money as would closing other elementary and middle schools in central and eastern Lawrence, said Zach Conrad, the district’s director for data.

“We’re not seeing that it’s going to have a significant impact on the budget, like the other proposals,” Conrad said, noting new transportation costs and redistribution of resources would undercut the cost savings. “At this point, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Conrad presented the scenario to the school district’s school boundary committee during a meeting on Wednesday, explaining another option available to the district as it considers the closure of several schools to save the district money as it faces at least a $3.3 million budget shortfall because of declining enrollment.

No public comment was taken at Wednesday’s meeting, but parents with children at the schools in question have been vocal about saving their neighborhood institutions.

Conrad last week presented four scenarios, which all included closing multiple schools, and Broken Arrow and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School are included in almost all of them. Other schools that could be closed include New York, Pinckney and Woodlawn elementary schools. Some scenarios include closing elementary schools and turning Liberty Memorial into a larger regional elementary school.

Conrad said at the time the district’s budget and program evaluation committee also specifically requested to know what the closure of Hillcrest would look like, but he had not yet finished reviewing it to present to the committee because of the additional effects it would have on the districtwide English for Speakers of Other Languages program, or ESOL, that is housed there.

On Wednesday, he said the cost-saving measures could include the district closing Hillcrest and sending the 180 ESOL students to four neighboring schools: Cordley, Sunset Hill, Sunflower and Schwegler elementary schools. Meanwhile, the remaining 150 students who attend Hillcrest but are not in the ESOL program would also be moved to other schools, such as Pinckney.

But Conrad said the option may not be as feasible as the originally presented scenarios because moving the ESOL students and maintaining the cluster sites would likely result in the closure of just one elementary school rather than multiple schools. He said some students currently attending what would become the four cluster sites would need to be moved to make room for incoming ESOL students, which would then lead to a domino effect moving students throughout the district.

No specific decisions on the proposals were made during the meeting. The committee was reviewing the school closure scenarios at the district’s budget and program evaluation committee’s request. To help find ways to save money, the budget and program evaluation committee is considering many options, including “closing an elementary school” and “closing a middle school.”

The proposals also included reducing staff positions at several levels, such as eliminating middle school assistant principals, executive director positions in the district administration and some coaching and fine arts leadership positions, among several other options.

Meanwhile, the district’s administration has already begun exploring and discussing with school leaders the possibility of closing New York Elementary and turning it into a free, public Montessori school.

As the Journal-World previously reported, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district began exploring the possibility as a way to attract students to the district.

He also confirmed that the district shared information about the plan with New York Elementary’s staff and the school’s site council. But Lewis said no official decision or recommendation on the proposal has been made.

That proposal also comes just months after the district closed Kennedy Elementary School, another school that served eastern Lawrence students, to turn it into an early-childhood community education center. That move saved the district a little more than $700,000 in its budget, the district said at the time.

On Monday, parents of students who attend the schools proposed for closure gathered in protest and wrote messages in chalk in front of the school buildings calling for the schools to remain open.

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