25 Feb Closing Schools Not the Solution

February 25, 2010

By: Michael Holtz
Source: University Daily Kansan

The Lawrence School Board faces the daunting task of cutting $5 million in funding before next school year. Deciding where those cuts will come from remains a difficult decision and one that deserves careful deliberation.

Although the Board needs to consider a wide range of viable options, closing neighborhood schools falls far outside that range. The long-term costs of closing schools greatly outweigh any short-term benefits.

Students should express concern with the proposal to close schools.

Public forums to discuss options for the school board budget cuts will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, at Central Junior High and at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, at West Junior High
Opponents, such as the group Save Our Neighborhood Schools, have cited the strong connection between schools and their corresponding neighborhoods. One specific scenario discussed at a Board meeting on Monday entailed closing two elementary schools and the East Heights Early Childhood Center. Closing those schools would detract from the identity and functionality of their respected neighborhoods.

The importance of those schools spans beyond neighborhood and enrollment boundaries.

As Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little expressed in a letter to Superintendent Rick Doll, local schools are of vital importance to the University as well.

In her letter, Gray-Little rightly asserted that “the high quality of Lawrence public schools is one of the hallmarks of the Lawrence community and a key recruiting tool.”

Prospective faculty and staff members, as well as students with families, are more likely to join the University knowing that “they can send their children to a first-rate school,” as Gray-Little said.

English as a Second Language, a program designed to improve the English skills of international faculty, staff and students, may also be threatened by the possibility of closing Hillcrest and Cordley Elementary Schools, two schools near campus. ESL attracts international employees and students and provides a unique volunteer opportunity to students involved.

Students in the School of Education also rely on local schools for volunteer, student teaching and practicum opportunities. About 45 students volunteer weekly at local schools as members of the School of Education Student Organization.

Though the scenario outlined on Monday excluded closing those schools, a final decision has yet been made on which schools would ultimately be closed.

Closing one elementary school would only save the district $400,000 to $600,000. Although the budget deficit is severe, it is only temporary. The minimal gain that would be received does not justify the very permanent consequences of closing the schools.

Alternatively, programs and teachers are easier to bring back than entire schools.

District administrators have proposed a list of possible program, administra tive and classified staff cuts totaling $3 million in savings. Adding one student to the student-teacher ratio would require 20 fewer teachers, allowing the district to save an additional $1.1 million.

Though not ideal, the proposed cuts to faculty, along with several additional cuts proposed by Save Our Neighborhood Schools, are enough to cover the $5 million deficit and keep all schools open.

Though the decrease in state aid and rise in insurance costs are to blame for the Lawrence school district’s budget cuts, they are temporary problems requiring temporary solutions.

No solution will be perfect considering the extent of the district’s budget woes. The $5 million cut presents considerable obstacles, and we greatly admire the Board’s diligent efforts in finding the best way forward. But it remains possible to reach a satisfactory agreement without closing schools, an imprudent solution the Board should avoid entirely.

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