Lawrence school board votes to hold hearings on closing 2 schools and to cut staff

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Lawrence school board members, more than six hours into their meeting Monday, voted to hold public hearings to consider closing Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools, but not Woodlawn.

They also voted to repurpose Liberty Memorial Central Middle School as a magnet school, with its exact focus still to be determined, but on a different timeline than the district had proposed. LMCMS will continue to operate as it has during a planning year.

The board voted 6-1 to hold a hearing on closing Pinckney Elementary, all in favor except board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood. All voted in favor of hearings on Broken Arrow Elementary except board member Kay Emerson. The motion to hold a hearing on closing Woodlawn failed 4-3, with Cadue-Blackwood, Emerson and board members Kelly Jones and GR Gordon-Ross voting no.

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Administrators’ recommendation also included cutting approximately 50 full-time staff members at the middle and high school levels. Board members voted 6-1 in favor of those cuts, with board Past President Erica Hill opposed. Hill said she struggled with the proposal to cut staff if it meant increasing class sizes.

The board heard nearly two hours of public comment from about three dozen people who were largely opposed to school closures. Many were parents of elementary school students, along with some teachers, staff members, students and community members.

Gordon-Ross, Emerson and Jones all said they were opposed to closing Woodlawn. Hill and Cadue-Blackwood also said they had concerns about kids walking across the Kansas River bridge from North Lawrence to come to school south of the river.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Lawrence school board Past President Erica Hill and board members Carole Cadue-Blackwood and Kay Emerson

Board Vice President Paula Vann said she supported the administration’s recommendations, and repurposing LMCMS.

Board President Shannon Kimball, who was first elected in 2011, said the district has been looking at the same problems since 2012.

“At that time, the board did what everybody in this room was asking us to do tonight: It said ‘No, we’re not going to close any buildings. We’re going to spend $92 million and fix them all up. And we’re going to hope that our enrollment grows and that the state Legislature gives us more money,'” Kimball said.

She said the board had to decide Monday night what kind of district Lawrence Public Schools is going to be for the next decade.

“I cannot count how many emails I have answered where people have said to me, ‘You need to just cut administration and that’s going to fix our problem,'” Kimball said. “It is not. It is not feasible. It is not possible to get to the kind of numbers that we are talking about if that is the only option that is left to us on the table. So that is, I believe, why our administration has brought this board a proposal that includes a combination of staffing cuts and building closures.”

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times School board President Shannon Kimball, left, speaks as Vice President Paula Vann and board Past President Erica Hill listen during the board’s Feb. 27, 2023 meeting.

Kimball said she, too, had concerns about kids crossing the Kansas River bridge; however, she wanted to plan to hold a hearing on Woodlawn, but give administrators a chance to address those concerns first. The board needed to set public hearings Monday in order for the district to be on the right timeline to come up with plans if schools are going to be closed.

Jones moved to create a middle school redesign committee to come up with recommendations to repurpose LMCMS by December 2023, to then be implemented in the 2024-25 school year. There would be no movement of students out of LMCMS for the 2023-24 school year. Gordon-Ross seconded the motion.

“I don’t know why we would urgently get this one done by August when we haven’t done that before,” Jones said.

Jones, Emerson, Cadue-Blackwood and Gordon-Ross voted in favor; Hill, Kimball, and Vann voted no. The motion passed 4-3. However, that was on a second roll call vote — initially, Cadue-Blackwood and Emerson voted “no,” but Jones asked to clarify that they understood that they were voting on her modified motion rather than the original one administrators had proposed, and both changed their answers.

The board has not made final decisions on whether to close any schools. Public hearings are the board’s next step toward closing 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 state statute covering school closures. “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.”

More than 600 people tuned in to watch the board meeting on YouTube, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said at the end of the meeting, and the board room was packed with community members.

Read more FAQs, background and a timeline on school closures at this link.

Update, 2:27 p.m. Tuesday: Here’s more coverage from Monday’s meeting.

Union reps, community members voice concerns about staff cuts and school closures ahead of Lawrence school board vote — Click here to read the story

Lawrence school district students, staff and community members rally before school board meeting — Click here to read the story and see the photos

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Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Community members pack the board room.
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times School board members Kay Emerson, GR Gordon-Ross and Kelly Jones
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times
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