Lawrence school board president asks to consider revising high school boundaries

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Compared to Free State High School, Lawrence High School’s enrollment is dangerously declining, putting it at a “low risk – but certainly a consideration” to be reclassified from a 6A school to a 5A school, Lawrence school board President Kelly Jones said Monday.

During her commentary at Monday’s board meeting, Jones made a request that the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee reevaluate high school boundaries.

She said that currently, Free State is the 14th largest school in the state, and LHS is the 28th largest school. At this point, losing approximately 150 more students could result in LHS’ lower school size category, which would directly impact athletics and other extracurricular activities.

“In my opinion, we need to work toward growing LHS enrollment,” Jones said. “Growth might come from future boundary changes and accepting out-of-district transfers. The boundary shift may not need to be dramatic to achieve the desired outcome of the balance of enrollment and distribution of students by socioeconomic status, which is what we have historically done.”

During her time on the board, Jones has always known Free State to have a higher enrollment. Before LHS was remodeled in 2021, the hallways were tight and didn’t allow room to accommodate lots of people. But the district didn’t adjust the high school boundaries then because Free State had the capacity to take in more students as needed.

Jones said this is an equity issue.

“The historic 15th Street boundary line may have made sense when it was drawn; however, the city growth patterns have shifted and we need to evaluate boundary lines with a continued equity focus, per the committee’s charge,” she said. “And additionally, I think it will help us with staffing issues so that we can create and better ensure equitable experiences between the high schools.”

The BAC in February decided to recommend the district make no changes to its current middle school boundaries. For around three months prior, the committee had been considering potential changes to the boundary structure to accommodate Liberty Memorial Central Middle School’s shift to a STEAM school next year but decided to postpone that work one year so that the district could get acclimated to the STEAM school.

Also part of the committee’s recommendation in February, the school board will complete a comprehensive boundary review that takes into consideration elementary and middle school boundaries.

Included in Jones’ request on Monday to the BAC was that members “review high school boundaries starting this summer or early fall, so that the recommendations can be made to the board in mid to late December early January, or another timeline deemed to be in the best interest of the enrollment procedures and when changes would need to go into effect as it relates to students decisions about coursework.”

Board Vice President Bob Byers said he concurred with Jones, and that he hoped the BAC routinely looks at different shifts that need to be made at all school levels.

Jones also said there’s room for the BAC to collaborate with the Policy Committee regarding transfer policies so that the district could potentially begin moving full-time equivalent dollars along with students when they transfer.

Other board members did not make additional comments on the topic Monday, and board member GR Gordon-Ross, who serves on the BAC, was not present for the meeting.

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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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