TPS Board hears final issues
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
6/01/12 at 7:16 AM
Read continuing coverage of Tulsa Public Schools’ Project Schoolhouse initiative, including an interactive map that details the potential impact for every school in the district.
Related story: Vote on TPS plan may yield info mid-May.
Parents and other concerned patrons told the school board on Tuesday that they understand the need for consolidation in Tulsa Public Schools but questioned the reasoning used to target certain sites for closure or conversion.
More than 250 people attended and the board heard from nearly 40 speakers at a three-hour public hearing about the Project Schoolhouse consolidation initiative.
"I'm here to represent those students, their families, my staff and the whole Phillips (Elementary School) community," said Tracey Braunschweig, a teacher at Phillips. "I'm not here to argue that change does not need to happen, but I do keep asking why Phillips is on the list."
Superintendent Keith Ballard has recommended that 14 schools be closed, that eight others have all students reassigned so that those facilities can be converted for other use, and that two TPS facilities that are now used for other purposes be reopened as schools. The school board is set to vote on the matter Monday.
Ballard had the floor for the first 10 minutes of the special board meeting, offering a brief overview of his recommendation.
"We have waited 25 years to undertake this very important project," he said. "While it would have been easier to ignore the inequities that exist, because of the financial inefficiencies that were involved, this needed to happen."
He added that the announcement of his recommendation on Friday has spurred a great deal of concern among parents about the need to change attendance area boundaries and to displace some transfer students.
But he said parents can be assured that no boundary changes have been finalized and that their input will be sought before they are. He also said the district will do everything it can to minimize the impact school closures have on current transfer students.
Two elementary schools targeted for closure - Roosevelt and Phillips - and one slated for conversion to an early childhood development center - Jones - drew multiple parents, teachers and other staff members speaking against their inclusion in the plan.
Roosevelt had not been targeted for closure in any of the three initial Project Schoolhouse proposal but ended up in Ballard's final recommendation.
Teachers Ellen Bracken and Joe Koss asked that Ballard consider amending his recommendation to consolidate Chouteau Elementary School at Roosevelt instead of having it relocated to Madison Middle School.
Kenya Johnson, a parent of two students at Roosevelt, said the plan "just really kind of took me by surprise."
"As a single parent, I can tell you it's hard on me financially," she said. "I'm here to ask that you reconsider closing Roosevelt."
Shawnda Wirth, a teacher at Phillips, asked why her school couldn't be kept open instead of reopening the Fulton Teaching and Learning Academy as a school. The Fulton facility has long been used as a professional development site.
"The points that we don't understand and a lot of your employees don't understand is why we are opening schools that are not functioning as elementary schools (now)," Wirth said.
"Where is their gym?" she asked. "Where are they going to have PE? Where is the cafeteria? We have a cafeteria already ready for kids. What about bathrooms for little ones? Over at Fulton, there is no playground. I don't want to send kids over to a school that is not functioning in August and September."
Susan Maulsby, who is a support employee and grandparent of three students at Jones Elementary School, questioned the fairness of reassigning students to other schools, since many Jones students had to change schools when it was reopened four years ago.
She noted that renovations are nearing completion at the 200-plus unit Colonial Park Apartments near 21st Street and Memorial Drive, and she said families who move in there could soon overburden remaining elementary schools in the area.
In addition to parents and guardians, the meeting also had a strong showing of local business leaders.
Dana Weber with Webco Industries, Andrea Murrell with Williams, Mike Neal with the Tulsa Metro Chamber, John Gaberino with the GableGotwals law firm and Jeff Dunn with Mill Creek Lumber all commended Ballard and the school board for confronting inefficiencies and pledged their support.
Hans Helmerich, CEO and president of Helmerich and Payne, thanked Ballard and the school board for using a process that "allows for this kind of energy, input and advocacy" and "is fact-based" and "being carefully considered."
"I hope that we can maintain this level of energy and enthusiasm to making Tulsa Public Schools the best that it can be," he said.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett took his support one step further and encouraged the school board to approve Ballard's recommendation.
"You now have recognized the problem, and you are no longer willing to kick the can down the road," Bartlett said. "What we are looking at here is an opportunity, in my view, to spend the taxpayer's money more wisely and more efficiently. ...
"At the end of the day, we have to have an educated child, prepared to enter this extremely competitive world."
World Staff Writer Sara Plummer contributed to this story.
Project Schoolhouse final recommendation
• Buildings closed (14)
Central feeder pattern: Chouteau, Roosevelt
East Central feeder pattern: Sandburg
Edison feeder pattern: Barnard, Phillips
McLain feeder pattern: Alcott, Cherokee
Memorial feeder pattern: Grimes
Rogers feeder pattern: Cleveland, Wilson
Webster feeder pattern: Addams
Other: ECDC Bunche, Franklin, Lombard
• Buildings converted, all current students reassigned to other schools (8)
Bryant, Hamilton, Houston, Jones, Lewis and Clark, Madison, Nimitz, Rogers
• Reopened as schools (2)
Source: Tulsa Public Schools
Other community voices came to the meeting
"Throughout the district, parents have been united with one voice. The delivery may have been different, but the message has been the same: We want what is best for our children. As parents, let us not retreat back into our individual schools, but let us reach out across school boundaries and stand together for our children."
- Lisa Morgan, PTA president at Grimes Elementary School, which would be relocated to the Nimitz Middle School facility.
"This is similar to voting on a tax without knowing how the tax will be used and what the tax will cost."
- Alan Morton, who lives near Hoover Elementary School, which could be affected by attendance-area boundary changes if Project Schoolhouse is approved.
"I was not shocked, because school closings have to occur. You cannot have declining student populations and declining revenue sources come together and have everything stay the same. What shocked me was the fact that the neighborhood that Roosevelt serves was not provided with the same equity to provide input, to be able to put forth alternative plans. ... That's where my outrage came from."
- Debra Jones, who owns several properties near Roosevelt Elementary School, which is targeted for closure.
"You have taken on a task, as some others have said, that no others would want to do. This board's not going to be able to satisfy everyone. You are the Solomon of the present world."
- John Gaberino, attorney with Gable-Gotwals law firm and charter member of the Foundation for Tulsa Schools.
"Academics are not the only reason that our kids are not making it in school. We need to look at how we discipline our kids across the board. ... We need more counselors in the schools. We see killing on TV every day, affecting neighborhoods and kids that are coming to school."
- Etta Taylor, PTSA president at Wilson Middle School, which would close.
"We don't care that the people who will be affected are the people who can least afford another avenue for a different kind of education. If their school is closed and they can't afford transportation, they are going to have to put their child on a bus. All of the burden is put on a certain group, class of people. We're not going to address that."
- Denise Wilson, member of the watchdog group Citizens United for a Better Education System.
Original Print Headline: Voices of concern
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
The Tulsa school board faces parents, educators and other community members as Superintendent Keith Ballard stands at the podium (right) at Eisenhower International School on Tuesday evening during the last public comment session to address the proposed Project Schoolhouse changes. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard tells the crowd at the last public comment session on Project Schoolhouse changes that "it would have been easier to ignore the inequities that exist" in the school district than to make the controversial closure and consolidation recommendations. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Parents, educators and other community members listen to comments in the Eisenhower International School gymnasium on Tuesday evening during the last public comment session on the Project Schoolhouse changes. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World