Lawrence superintendent’s recommendation: Close 3 elementary schools, repurpose middle school

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Proposal would also cut about 50 full-time equivalent staff members at middle and high schools

Post last updated at 10:18 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24:

Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis is recommending that three elementary schools be closed and a middle school be repurposed into a magnet school.

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Lawrence school board members on Monday will consider a number of budget cuts, and decide whether to hold public hearings to discuss closing Broken Arrow, Pinckney and Woodlawn elementary schools and repurposing Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. 

“The board will hear the Superintendent’s final recommendation as it relates to the plan to meet the goals of the (Futures Planning Committee) established by the board. Part of this proposal includes closing two elementary schools and repurposing one middle school,” according to the agenda.

The recommended motion for the board to consider also includes to approve Lewis’ recommendation to cut about 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) middle and high school staff members. That would save an estimated $3.25 million, according to the agenda.

If board members decide that school closures are warranted, under state law, they must give the public notice ahead of hearings on individual buildings. They cannot vote on Monday to close a particular school, though they don’t have to authorize the public hearings on all four schools that the superintendent is recommending. They could also decide to hold hearings on whether to close other schools.

“Prior to adopting a resolution closing any school building, the board of education shall call and hold a hearing on the proposal,” according to the statute. “The notice of such hearing shall include the reasons for the proposed closing, the name of any affected building and the name of any school building to which the involved pupils shall be reassigned.”

Lewis’ proposed timeline would push the board members’ decisions on closures into April. If the board does hold public hearings, those would be set for March 28-29, according to the meeting agenda materials; the board would vote on school closures on April 10.

Staff members at the four named schools apparently found out about the potential for closures to affect them during “emergency staff meetings” on Friday afternoon, the Lawrence High School Budget reported.

In a letter to Broken Arrow families on Friday, Superintendent Anthony Lewis wrote that “I will recommend to the Lawrence Board of Education Monday that Broken Arrow Elementary School be closed, Broken Arrow K-4 students transition to another school or schools in the fall, and that the facility be repurposed.” Similar letters went out to Woodlawn and Pinckney families, also.

If the board moves forward with a public hearing, the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee will meet on from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays at the district’s Facilities and Operations Office, 711 E. 23rd St., to discuss and propose boundary changes for the “redistribution of Broken Arrow’s K-4 students to another school or schools,” Lewis wrote.

The meeting agenda does not expand upon what a “repurposing” of LMCMS would entail. However, Larry Englebrick, interim chief operations officer, told the FPC on Feb. 15 that no decision had been made, but there had been introductory discussions about repurposing the building into a fine arts magnet school.

However, in a letter to LMCMS families on Friday, Lewis wrote that he is going to recommend that the school “be repurposed as a focused school with a magnet theme or themes in 2024-2025. I will recommend that current sixth and seventh graders be given the choice to remain at LMCMS next year or attend their newly assigned middle school (Billy Mills, Southwest, or West). In addition, I will recommend that rising sixth graders in the LMCMS boundary area attend their newly assigned middle school (Billy Mills, Southwest, or West) in the fall.”

The schools that could be subjects of public hearings and closures were among the lowest-scoring on a recent assessment of the buildings shared with the FPC. Along with New York and Hillcrest elementaries, they are the same buildings that were considered for closures last year.

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Closing two elementary schools and repurposing a middle school is estimated to save the district between $925,000 and $1.1 million. The closures are part of a package of about $9 million in cuts the district is attempting to make, largely with the goal of improving staff salaries.

Lewis is recommending a package of cuts that amount to about $4.5 to $4.8 million, according to further materials that were added to the meeting agenda Friday evening:

20230227-Budget-cut-report

When the school board met for a special meeting Tuesday evening, Lewis told the board he would not recommend cutting an administrative position, which would have resulted in an estimated $128,000 in savings.

The school board voted in April 2021 to “repurpose” Kennedy Elementary School into an early childhood center, closing the building to grades K-5. Kennedy students were transferred into three other schools. Board member Kelly Jones said during the special meeting Tuesday that she wanted the district to avoid further harming those kids.

“Some of those students — not all of them, but some of those students — have more challenges than other students,” Jones said. “So wanting to be careful or thoughtful about, to the extent possible, not impacting those kids again with another closure.”

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. The full meeting agenda is posted online at this link. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel and broadcast on Midco channel 26.

To give public comment virtually during the board meeting, email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting to sign up to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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