Lawrence school board to take final votes on two elementary school closures

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After hearing from dozens of community members on Saturday, Lawrence school board members will decide Monday whether or not to close one or two elementary schools after the end of this school year.

The board on Feb. 28 voted to approve a budget reduction package, which included cutting 50 full-time staff members at the middle and high school levels and holding public hearings to consider closing Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools.

Board members during their meeting on Monday will vote first on closing Broken Arrow, then on closing Pinckney, according to the meeting agenda.

With the primary goal of increasing staff salaries, the district is working to finalize about $3.8 million to $4 million in cuts to its 2024-23 budget. Each elementary school closure would save between $300,000 and $400,000, according to estimates the district has provided, but no breakdown of the projected cost savings has been provided in public documentation.

The board on Feb. 28 also voted to form a committee to examine repurposing Liberty Memorial Central Middle School into a magnet or themed school. Administrators had recommended that changes take effect with the start of the 2023-24 school year, but the board’s vote pushed the timeline back to the subsequent year. 

As required by state law, the district on Saturday held public hearings at each school. Community members, parents and students shared stories and pleaded with the board to keep the schools open. Many were emotional while sharing their comments. Read about Broken Arrow’s hearing at this link and Pinckney’s hearing at this link. Both hearings were recorded and are now posted to the district’s YouTube channel.

Community advocacy group Save Our Schools 497 and supporters rallied ahead of both public hearings and plan to do so again before the school board meeting begins. The group will meet in front of district offices at 5 p.m. and stay until the meeting begins at 6 p.m.

At least four out of the seven board members must vote “yes” for a school closure to be approved. The board will hear public comment before voting on separate resolutions to close Broken Arrow and/or Pinckney.

“If after considering all of the testimony and evidence presented or submitted at the public hearing, the board determines that this school building should be closed to improve the school system of USD 497, then the board should approve the attached building closure resolution,” according to the school closure agenda items.

View a timeline of previous school closures and discussions at this link.

In other business:

Middle school curriculum changes

The school board on Feb. 28 approved cuts of 50 full-time staff members at middle and high schools. These staff cuts are estimated to save the district $3.25 million. The district has been working to shift curriculum in a way that will compensate for the reductions, according to the meeting agenda. 

Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly’s presentation for Monday outlines proposed changes to sixth, seventh and eighth grade courses, such as changing physical education class to every other day rather than every day for a semester, adding new courses, moving courses to other curriculum sections and more.

According to the presentation, there are pros and cons that could be considerations regarding the proposed changes. There would be fewer elective options for middle school students, anticipated multigrade elective classes, no more required health courses for sixth graders, the possibility of later start times or release times for students, and other considerations.

Two reports

District staff during Monday’s meeting will give the board two reports.

• HR staff survey: In the first report, the board will hear staff survey results. Visit this link to view the district’s Human Resources staff’s presentation for Monday.

District spokesperson Julie Boyle said in February that the board would hear a report from the district’s calendar committee members about their research and study of a four-day week for students and a five-day week for staff as part of the board’s “regular strategic plan update about goals in the area of effective employees.” It was not clear from the meeting agenda materials posted online as of Sunday whether that topic would be part of the discussion.

• Recommended boundaries: The board will also hear a report from Superintendent Anthony Lewis on the school boundary recommendation from the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee and consultant RSP & Associates.

The district on Thursday shared its map with the proposed boundary changes, which outlines new school assignments for Broken Arrow and Pinckney students — if the board votes to close the schools — as well as elementary students at schools not up for closure.

Visit this link to view the map and read more about the new boundaries. According to GR Gordon-Ross, school board member and Boundary Advisory Committee member, the board will hear the report Monday but will not take any vote on the recommendation. That vote is scheduled to take place during the board’s April 10 meeting.

The school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, March 27 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available at this link.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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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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