TPS board approves Project Schoolhouse plan
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Monday, May 02, 2011
5/02/11 at 11:22 PM
Project Schoolhouse: See continuing coverage of Tulsa Public Schools’ Project Schoolhouse initiative.
The Tulsa school board’s decision is in: Fourteen school buildings will shut down next month, and a change in grade configurations at nearly every remaining school will get under way.
Approved by a 5-2 vote Monday evening, the Project Schoolhouse efficiency initiative will eliminate 5,600 of 10,400 empty seats and is projected to save Tulsa Public Schools about $5 million annually.
“This has been a very emotional and painful process,” school board President Brian Hunt said. “I originally thought that this truly was just about closing some underenrolled schools and quickly came to the realization from the data we have seen that it truly is about equity.”
The following school buildings will be shuttered after June 3, the last day of school: Addams, Alcott, Barnard, Cherokee, Chouteau, Grimes, Roosevelt and Sandburg elementary schools; Early Childhood Development Center-Bunche; Cleveland and Wilson middle schools; Tulsa Met-Franklin and Tulsa Met-Lombard alternative education schools; and the Fulton Teaching and Learning Academy.
These eight school buildings will have all current students reassigned to other schools so the buildings can be converted for other uses: Bryant, Hamilton, Houston, Lewis and Clark, Madison, Nimitz, Phillips, and Rogers.
Members Oma Jean Copeland and Lois Jacobs cast the dissenting votes. Copeland questioned whether $5 million in savings was worth the hardship of school closures, and Jacobs suggested that cost savings be pursued through other means.
Using a process rooted in the latest educational research and seeking extensive feedback from parents, TPS officials crafted a consolidation proposal that will also change grade configurations at most sites.
Most elementary schools will add the sixth grade, and nearly all seventh- and eighth-graders will either move into carefully segregated portions of high school buildings or remain at middle school buildings that will be renamed junior highs.
The result of those grade configuration changes combined with the approved closures and building conversions could be a tectonic shift of students across the district come August.
On Monday, Ballard announced that the related issue of attendance-area boundary changes would be decided later this week, although he did not specify when.
He also reminded the board about his motivation for launching the Project Schoolhouse initiative last fall and for recommending that action be taken in time for dramatic changes to be implemented before 2011-12.
“It is not the perfect plan, but I do think it’s a good plan, and I think it’s a necessary start,” he said. “I must also speak to the finances. We lost $20 million out of the operations budget last year. We’ve already lost $1.3 million this year. … The dollars that we are going to save because of this will be significant.”
Eight people spoke before the board, representing opposition to the overall plan or specific closures of Cherokee and Roosevelt elementary schools.
Amy Price, the parent of two students at Phillips Elementary School, and Tracey Braunschweig, a teacher there, asked the board to vote “No” on Project Schoolhouse because they were opposed to the reassignment of Phillips’ current students and the reuse of the building by a relocated Zarrow International School.
Melissa Menagh, a Roosevelt teacher, was one of several speakers to suggest that certain sites were targeted for closure because of their potential appeal to real estate buyers.
“Roosevelt operates at a lower cost-per-student than Madison. That makes me question why you would recommend moving an elementary school to Madison (rather than Roosevelt),” Menagh said. “It seems like the only reason that our school is being closed is that we sit on land that would be desirable to others.”
Regina Goodwin, who served on the school board-appointed citizens advisory council for its first few weeks of meetings before dropping out, said, “This is not adding up. We’re thinking individuals; we’re civil individuals; and we’re respectful individuals. What you guys are selling we aren’t buying. …
“This is not about education. This is about real estate. This is about the privatization of public schools and what we used to know as public education. At what point do you guys who are supposed to be representing us care about public education?”
Ballard responded directly to the accusations.
“I have not contacted anyone about the sale of any property. But I have been contacted about property, and so when I’m asked that question, I’m going to tell the truth that people have called me. … This was not about what property could sell or not,” he said.
Every board member who voted to approve Project Schoolhouse praised Ballard for taking on the controversial issue of consolidation and for taking into account the suggestions and concerns of parents, teachers, principals, community leaders and other residents.
Member Anna America noted that changes were made to Ballard’s recommendation “because, frankly, people out there had better ideas. I think it is something that people should be proud of.”
She also said, “The financial pressures we are facing have forced us into this situation,” but she said she doubted that TPS could come up with a “perfect plan” for consolidation even if it spent another year or two studying the idea.
Tulsa Public Schools Board President Brian Hunt (left) listens as Superintendent Keith Ballard speaks during a school board meeting at Eisenhower International School on Monday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World