Free child care to be provided during public hearings on two elementary school closures; no livestreams available

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Public hearings on the potential closures of Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools will be held in person only, but the district will provide free, on-site child care for school-age children, district spokesperson Julie Boyle said via email Thursday evening.

As part of the district’s goal to make $9 million in cuts to the 2023-24 budget, the Lawrence school board after midnight on Feb. 28 voted to hold public hearings for two of the three recommended elementary schools that administrators recommended for closures, with Woodlawn voted off the table. Under state law, school districts must schedule hearings ahead of possible school closures to allow community members the chance to weigh in on decisions.

The public hearings are scheduled for Saturday, March 25 at each school:

• Broken Arrow: 10 a.m. to noon in the school’s gymnasium, 2704 Louisiana St.

• Pinckney: 2 to 4 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium, 810 W. Sixth St.

Those interested in participating in the public hearings can email PublicComment@usd497.org to sign up in advance or complete a sign-up sheet at the hearings by the start time of either hearing. Boyle said comments during the hearings can be related to either school closure. 

Community members are invited to share their thoughts on the recommended school closures ahead of the board’s scheduled final vote the following Monday evening, March 27. School board President Shannon Kimball will lead each hearing and the board will be present to hear comments.

“Depending upon the number of individuals signed up for public comment, the board president may adjust the three minutes traditionally allotted to each speaker,” Boyle said via email.

Technology limitations will not allow livestreams of either public hearings to be made available, Boyle said.

“The hearings are being held at the schools to improve accessibility to the school communities,” Boyle said via email. “The school gyms are not equipped with the technology necessary for a quality video/audio livestream presentation. The district will record both hearings and post the recordings to its YouTube channel by Monday.”

That has raised concerns for some community members, including members of the advocacy group Save Our Schools 497.

“It is a privilege to have the resources, free time, and access to be able to attend the hearings in person,” Alicia Erickson, of SOS 497, said via email. “Limiting participation to only in-person attendance and to only for a few hours silences voices that must be heard.”

The district must publish public notices of the hearings twice during two consecutive weeks, with the second publication occurring no later than 10 days before the hearing date. To be ready for hearings on March 25, the district must publish a second notice by March 15.

Any new elementary school boundaries will be made available for the public hearings. The district’s Boundary Advisory Committee on Wednesday agreed upon a proposal that they will use as a “baseline” as they work to finalize a recommendation on boundaries to district administrators. The proposal suggests which new schools elementary students at Broken Arrow and Pinckney as well as schools not up for closures may be assigned to next year.

There will not be any online surveys or forms to submit public comment after the hearings, so Boyle said those who cannot attend the public hearings or would like to share additional comments afterward are encouraged to share in person or virtually during the public comment portion of the board meeting on Monday, March 27.

Email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting to give public comment virtually, or complete the signup sheet at the meeting prior to 6 p.m. to speak in person.

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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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