Members of the Pinckney Elementary School community frequently teared up on Saturday afternoon as they told Lawrence school board members why the small school is so special.
But it is small, and that’s one of the biggest reasons the Lawrence school board is considering closing it — and Broken Arrow Elementary — in hopes of freeing up money to give staff better pay.
If Pinckney closes, 124 students would transfer to Deerfield, about 2.5 miles away, and 45 would transfer to Hillcrest, about 1.5 miles away.
The school board heard from almost 40 people on Saturday about why the school should stay.
Several speakers raised concerns about the speed of traffic on streets that current Pinckney students would have to cross if they transferred to Hillcrest or Deerfield.
Tiffany Easley, who said she was the librarian at Pinckney for six years, mentioned some specific crashes that have occurred at intersections that would be on students’ routes. But she also pointed to issues with the public hearing process. State statute mandates that school boards hold public hearings if they plan to close a school. The board held one at Broken Arrow on Saturday morning.
“We are all gathered here today for what is a very traumatic formality to check a box,” she said, and indicated that she believed the plan to close Pinckney had been “unofficially set in stone” for a year. The district discussed closing schools last year — including both Pinckney and Broken Arrow — but the school board decided not to.
The district has chalked up much of its budget trouble to declining enrollment, and a consultant the district hired in the fall projected that the decline will continue over the next five years. Enrollment is the biggest factor in the amount of funding the district receives from the state, so as it declines, so does funding.
Ashley Abbott, mother of two Pinckney kids, asked if the district had considered putting preschool back in the elementary school. She said she would love that option for her 4-year-old, and when she was a Pinckney student, the school had PreK through sixth grade.
She loves the school because she still sometimes sees teachers who were there when she was a kid — including one who had retired, “but she’s still here,” Abbott said. Pinckney is like home.
“It’s not just the school you’re closing; you’re breaking up a family,” she said.
Erika Zimmerman read her daughter’s letter to the board. Third-grader Kauvia wrote that she didn’t want Pinckney to close, because some people feel like they belong there, and they make friends they can trust forever.
“That means a lot to me because I’m one of those people, and Pinckney has made me feel like I know that there is someone that I can trust,” Kauvia wrote. She dabbed a couple of tears with her sleeve as her mother read the letter.
Many speakers stressed that a majority of Pinckney students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The school has a pantry, showers and laundry facilities for students and families who need them. Closing Pinckney would exacerbate economic disadvantages that many students already face, they said.
One woman said she and her family had been homeless for about six months. She could’ve moved to Kansas City to live with family, but they stayed here so her daughter could keep attending Pinckney, she said. As a kindergartner, the girl struggled to speak, and it was difficult for people to understand her — but at Pinckney, she has support throughout the whole building. The mother said she’s concerned about moving her to a new building where people don’t know her.
“If you take that away from her — just think about the other kids, just like my daughter, who will fall through the cracks because of this small school and the support that they are ready to give us,” she said.
A Pinckney staff member said it’s not just the school supporting the students and families, but the families support the staff, too. When her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, so many people were so understanding and supportive, and it’s a really unique and special school, she said.
And every student was mentioned during the hearing. Sherry Tamerius, a retired Pinckney teacher, read the first names of all the school’s students in alphabetical order, getting through four Olivers before her time ran out. Topher Enneking later picked up where she left off.
Enneking, who needed no mic for his voice to fill the gymnasium, read a passage from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in which the people of Earth are informed that their planet is scheduled for demolition. In closing, he told the school board that on Monday, they have the opportunity to keep that story science fiction.
The closures, if approved, would impact more than just Pinckney and Broken Arrow.
One Deerfield mother said her daughter would be among a handful of Deerfield students who would have to transfer to Woodlawn Elementary under the proposed new boundaries if the board does decide to close the schools. She said the girl’s two friends would not have to transfer, so she’d be moving to a new school across town with none of her friends.
School board members will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, March 27 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. They are expected to take their final votes on the school closures.
People may sign up to give public comment during that meeting by emailing PublicComment@usd497.org or filling out a signup sheet before the meeting begins. The meeting will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.
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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.