TPS closure plan OK'd
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
5/09/11 at 11:40 AM
See continuing coverage
of Tulsa Public Schools’
initiative, including the final plan.
Click here to see a list of the schools effected by Project Schoolhouse
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 Tulsa Public Schools could come up with a "perfect plan" for consolidation even if it spent another year or two studying the idea.
"If this is approved tonight, the community will ultimately judge what we do not by the decision that is made with this vote tonight but with the implementation."
Member Gary Percefull, District 1
"The bar for evaluating the success and effectiveness of schools in our district has been far too low for too long. ... Hold us accountable for what we say and what our commitment is today. You have the power to do that. We are a public school system."
Board Vice President Lana Turner-Addison, District 3
"I want to praise you, Dr. Ballard, for having the courage to bring this issue up. Despite all of the frustration and the hardship of closing schools, there is no way of getting around the fact that the numbers that we're serving do not warrant the buildings that we have, and in some way, this had to be addressed. There was no way you could have done this or that this board could have done this without some people being angry."
Member Anna America, District 4
"I want to remind people that this is really about simple math. In 1968, we were at 80,000 students, and today we are at 40,000. When we talk about 10,000 seats, we are talking about the equivalent of the Mabee Center sitting empty."
President Brian Hunt, District 5
"I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Ballard for his courage and bravery. We have talked about this for the last 10 years, and no one we have had in leadership positions was willing to take the chance with their career and put this kind of opportunity before the people of Tulsa."
Member Ruth Ann Fate, District 6
"I am not convinced that the closing of schools is equitable throughout the district. Five million dollars, although this is a lot of money saved, does not substantiate the closing, redistricting and displacing of our children. This is going to devastate already depressed and blighted neighborhoods and communities."
Member Oma Jean Copeland, District 2
"What TPS could do is ask for an analysis of cost savings via information technology, CNG, transportation and a selling of unused property."
Member Lois Jacobs, District 7
Project Schoolhouse timeline
Nov. 12: The Tulsa school board gets its first look at the Project Schoolhouse initiative, including the process and timeline.
Jan. 7: A school board-appointed advisory council starts meeting to study school sites, data on student transfers, academic performance, discipline problems, building capacity and condition, etc. The group continues to meet weekly for the next three months.
Jan. 10: The first of nine informational community forums about the Project Schoolhouse Initiative is held. The events are held at all nine high schools during January and February.
March 23: TPS begins a series of surveys about Project Schoolhouse.
March 29: TPS announces three proposals from the think tank-like Blue Sky Group, composed of educators and community leaders.
April 5: League of Women Voters begins its series of independent forums about the initiative.
April 13: TPS begins its own series of four forums to get input about Project Schoolhouse. The events are hosted by the Tulsa Council of PTAs.
April 22: Ballard makes public his final recommendations for closures and consolidations.
April 26: Tulsa school board holds a public hearing on Ballard's Project Schoolhouse recommendations.
Monday: School board votes to approve the final recommendation.
Tuesday through May 17: TPS is expected to send notices of school assignments for 2011-12 to the parents or guardians of all of its 42,000 students.
May 17-June 18: Although there will be far fewer empty seats into which students can transfer, TPS will reopen its intra-district transfer application process. Parents will receive notices about whether those transfers are approved or not July 5-8.
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Tulsa school board member Anna America (left) discusses Project Schoolhouse during a meeting at Eisenhower International School in Tulsa on Monday. Tulsa school board member Oma Jean Copeland is at right. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Lana Turner-Addison and Superintendent Keith Ballard celebrate after the passing of Project Schoolhouse during a Tulsa school board meeting at Eisenhower International School on Monday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Foam cups spell "Save Our School" on a fence at Cherokee Elementary School in Turley, but the school will close. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World