Following their vote to close two elementary schools, Lawrence school board members on Monday asked the district’s boundary committee to keep families from having to travel across highways to their new schools, consider allowing families to choose their new schools and more.
The school board during their meeting on March 27 voted 4-3 to close Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools. Ten schools and 485 students, or 15.1% of current kindergarten through fourth graders, would be impacted by the proposal recommended by the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee and consultant RSP & Associates.
Board member Kelly Jones suggested the administration consider expanding New York’s boundaries as well as moving more students — perhaps from Pinckney — into Hillcrest, which has more wiggle room than other schools. She also said the district should allow all students to transfer to their desired schools freely, without having to be approved through the district’s transfer policy.
“As we’re talking about these boundaries, we’re talking about people’s families, and they’re watching us, eager to know where their children are going,” Jones said. “This has been an extremely emotional experience for folks and to the extent possible, I would like to see families retain autonomy of choice whenever possible, so I’m asking for a liberal transfer policy for our families that are experiencing this significant change to their neighborhoods.”
Board President Shannon Kimball said the district’s current transfer process for elementary students is “quite open.” She said if families would like to transfer their elementary students to other schools and there is room in those grade levels at those schools, their requests will generally be easily approved.
Under the proposed plan, in addition to all Broken Arrow and Pinckney students moving schools, about 50 Deerfield students would be transferred to Sunset Hill and Woodlawn, 13 Cordley students would be transferred to Hillcrest, and 30 Hillcrest students would be transferred to Quail Run.
Board member GR Gordon-Ross, who is also a member of the Boundary Advisory Committee, said he thinks Deerfield students should not be transferred to Woodlawn. He also said students residing south of Kansas Highway 10 and west of Route 59 should be kept together at Langston Hughes. The current proposal would send about 13 of those students to Sunflower, he said.
Interim Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick said the district will use 80% utilization of facilities’ capacities as its minimum standard; 90% capacity begins pushing to an uncomfortable level for the district. New York and Woodlawn’s projections remain below 75% utilization, according to Englebrick. BAC members previously expressed that they wanted to funnel more students into Woodlawn to increase its building utilization.
Kimball said she would like the BAC to consider funneling more students into Hillcrest, especially if they do consider keeping the Deerfield boundary as it currently is. She also recommended expanding New York’s boundary, seconding Jones’ earlier sentiment.
“In terms of how to create a safe walkable route for that Pinckney neighborhood to Deerfield, I would like for the Boundary (Advisory) Committee to consider whether that entire area between McDonald Drive and the river south of I-70 down to the current Hillcrest boundary that’s on the proposal — whether it would be possible to move that entire area into Hillcrest, rather than putting them into Deerfield,” Kimball said.
“If we’re not going to take kids out of Deerfield to go to Woodlawn then that creates a domino effect, and I think one of the things you could look at would be moving those kids to Hillcrest and/or as Kelly mentioned, consider that New York / Hillcrest boundary and whether some of those Pinckney students or current Hillcrest students might end up at New York.”
Two public commenters on Monday mentioned their concerns about children in the Deerfield area north of I-70, who are proposed to be reassigned to Woodlawn, crossing McDonald Drive — a busy street known for car crashes. They both referenced a man who died on Monday in a fatal crash at the intersection of McDonald Drive and Rockledge Road. Superintendent Anthony Lewis affirmed that the district would provide transportation for those students.
Gordon-Ross mentioned that the district is strongly considering using Pinckney’s building for East Heights programs, including C-Tran, Project Search, Therapeutic Classroom, and Suspension Alternative Program. District administrators have also previously mentioned the possibility of utilizing Broken Arrow’s building to expand neighboring Billy Mills Middle School, specifically to further serve sixth graders. Lewis has also suggested that Broken Arrow could be used as a Native American Student Services Center.
Jamie Reed asked the school board to allow Deerfield students who live north of I-70 to stay there. Under the proposed plan, her second grade child would be reassigned to Woodlawn. That move would strip Reed of the community she moved to that area for, she said.
“We moved to this neighborhood for the specific reason of being closer to friends and family that can be our village to support me as a single mother; now we’re losing it all,” Reed said. “My support system gets to stay at Deerfield and we’re forced to go to Woodlawn.”
Englebrick said he took down 21 items of notes from the board’s feedback, which he will take back to the Boundary Advisory Committee for consideration at their next meeting.
The BAC will tentatively meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12 at the district’s Facilities & Operations Campus, 711 E. 23rd Street, Building A, to revisit the proposed boundaries and consider the board’s feedback. That meeting would be open to the public to observe, but no public comment is allowed.
Kimball said the board will most likely make their final vote on boundaries either during their Monday, April 24 meeting or during a special meeting sooner than then, depending on whether the BAC needs an additional meeting on April 19.