NEWS BRIEF: School Board Makes Decisions Regarding School Closures

During a six hour board meeting board members make further decisions about budget cuts


Chloe Cook

Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick shares a presentation slide talking about the impact of school closures.

Cici Hunter

On Monday, Feb. 27, the USD 497 Board of Education hosted a board meeting to hear administration and community input, in addition to the Future Planning Committee’s final proposal. 

“We have cut, and cut, and cut people, but we haven’t been doing a good job of cutting facilities,“ superintendent Anthony Lewis said. “We are at a point where we have no choice.”

Administration in the district was polled, with results showing admin supported staff reductions at the secondary level, as well as closing two elementary schools and repurposing one middle school. The Future Planning Committee proposed cutting 50 full-time educators in middle and high schools to achieve competitive pay in the district. 

“In Lawrence, 78-84% of staff are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with salary,” Lewis said. “If we don’t address this priority, then we will end up with an educator shortage. That’s why cuts have to happen.”

In addition to staff cuts, Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick said that based on the equity analysis, Pinckney, Broken Arrow and Woodlawn Elementary schools and Liberty Memorial Central Middle school “must be cut.”

Following the committee’s remarks, the board heard from more than 30 community members and educators to share concerns.

“All I see is there is no definite plan from this leadership,” public commentator and parent Erica Hunter said. “It’s going to cost more to close these schools than keep them open; I haven’t slept all week.”

In addition to public input, a “Save Our Schools” rally was held outside the district office. Dozens of community members gathered with signs to decry school closures.

“[Proposing to cut schools is] really short-sighted by our administration, and the board doesn’t have proper data to back it up,” Save Our Schools protestor and parent Jen Martin said. “I think it would be a horrible loss for our community.”

Following public input, the board began voting on items. With a 6-1 decision, the board voted in favor of moving to public hearings to discuss the possibility of closure for Pinckney and Broken Arrow.

Motion to advance Woodlawn’s closure to public hearings failed with a 4-3 vote. Board members stressed concerns about transportation costs and the isolation of students near Woodlawn that are across the Kansas River. 

The board also approved staffing reductions at the middle and high school levels, as well as delaying the repurposing of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School until the 2024-2025 school year.

The board’s Boundary Advisory Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district’s Facilities and Operations Office, followed by a special board meeting on Monday, March 6.