As Lawrence school closure talks loom, report identifies lowest-scoring district buildings

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Details of budget recommendations still vague after final meeting of Futures Planning Committee

The Lawrence school district’s Futures Planning Committee’s budget recommendation for the 2023-24 year remained unspecified at the end of the group’s final meeting Wednesday evening.

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The committee did, however, learn how elementary and middle schools scored on an assessment of district facilities. That data is being used to help make budget decisions, such as which schools may be closed next year.

The proposal currently being considered includes closing two elementary schools and one middle school. Closing three schools is estimated to save the district between $925,000 and $1.1 million out of the total $9 million in cuts needed to be made.

ACI Boland Architects completed an assessment of district facilities as part of the budget process with consultant RSP & Associates. Doug Loveland, ACI learn studio principal, presented to the Futures Planning Committee on Wednesday the composite scores his team gave each building. The overall composite score is based on the condition of the facility, count of primary teaching spaces, size of primary teaching spaces, American Disabilities Act access to buildings, and special program spaces, such as science labs and workshop classrooms.

According to the assessment, Woodlawn Elementary School and New York Elementary School received the lowest overall composite scores — 51 and 59.7 out 100, respectively. Loveland explained that was because Woodlawn and New York scored very low on count of teaching spaces and size, which are heavily weighted at 39% and 32%, equaling together 71% of the total score.

Loveland said buildings that scored low on access — the lowest being Woodlawn, with a score of 40 out of 100 — had efficiency issues, such as old-school doors that sit back in thick walls and don’t allow easy access for those who may have mobility limitations. Widening historic walls to fix that issue is “extraordinarily expensive,” Loveland said. 

Access was weighted at 3% of the composite score.

“The example I’ll give you is Woodlawn, where you park fairly far to the northeast corner of the sign and you have to wrap around the front of the north side of that building to get to the actual accessible front door,” Loveland said during the meeting.

Liberty Memorial Central Middle School significantly scored the lowest out of all middle schools, Loveland said, because of its size score. 

Loveland said the second lowest-scoring middle school was Southwest, but after budgeted repairs are made there, the gap will widen even more between Central and the other three middle schools.

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The third, fourth and fifth lowest-scoring elementary schools were Pinckney (64.1), Hillcrest (66.1) and Broken Arrow (67.1). With Woodlawn and New York, they’re the same five that were considered in closure discussions last school year.

Larry Englebrick, interim chief operations officer, cleared up rumors circulating that a decision had been made to repurpose LMCMS into a fine arts magnet school. He said though there have been introductory discussions about it, no decision has been made. In fact, the first time he heard the idea himself was at a Futures Planning Committee meeting and then next at a negotiations meeting with the teachers union, he said.

“Have there been discussions about multiple buildings? Yes,” Englebrick said during the meeting. “Decisions? Direction made? No. We have not done that. We will not make any of those decisions or real in-depth discussions until we have your recommendation.”

Here’s how the elementary schools scored:

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Equity analyses of possible budget cuts

Committee members participated in an online poll during the meeting in which they were asked to vote “yes” or “no” to statements regarding support of specific budget cuts. They were given the option to not respond to certain statements if they preferred.

The poll statements and how respondents voted include:

  1. I support an increase of high school staff ratios to 30 students. 52% yes, 49% no
  2. I support an increase of middle school staff ratios to 28 students. 52% yes, 49% no
  3. I support eliminating middle school second plan time. 67% yes, 33% no
  4. I support a reduction in district administration. 69% yes, 31% no
  5. I support transitioning to a four-day student week, five-day work week. 47% yes, 53% no
  6. I support reallocating more payment to 403b. 76% yes, 24% no
  7. I support investigating savings in the solar power renewable energy. 87% yes, 13% no
  8. I support the closing/repurposing of one elementary school. 84% yes, 16% no
  9. I support closing/repurposing of a second elementary school. 76% yes, 24% no
  10. I support the closing/repurposing of one middle school. 84% yes, 16% no

The Futures Planning Committee finished its meeting Wednesday with an “equity impact tool activity” with Cynthia Johnson, executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging.

Each table group was tasked with analyzing one of the budget reductions they were polled on by applying it to the district’s four equity constructs: access, representation, meaningful participation and high (positive) outcomes. For example, one small group of four members worked to discuss the impact that cutting one middle school would have on a diverse range of identities across the district, like who will be centered and who will be further marginalized.

After spending five to 10 minutes on each equity construct, the committee had to make a tough decision. Each group made a final recommendation for their respective budget reduction by choosing one of the following: “must not cut,” “could be cut,” “should be cut” or “must be cut.”

Results were not shared at the meeting Wednesday evening, but Johnson said they would be shared at a later time. 

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The results are meant to help construct the Futures Planning Committee’s final budget recommendation, which will then be shared with Superintendent Anthony Lewis for consideration. It was the committee’s last meeting, so its members will not have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommendations again as a whole. 

The recommendation will be presented to the school board at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. The meeting is open to the public, but there will be no public comment allowed as per usual for special board meetings, board President Shannon Kimball said Monday.

Englebrick concluded the meeting by thanking the Futures Planning Committee members for their volunteerism. 

“Again, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you very much,” Englebrick told committee members. “This has been a long process. Many of the events that we’ve had have been stressful, many have been rewarding … Thank you so much for the work and the commitment you have done.”

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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