501 Outlines Plans to Close Four Schools

By: Ralph Hipp, 13 News
By: Ralph Hipp, 13 News

QUINTON HEIGHTS -- If you have children in Pre-K and 8th Grade in Topeka Public Schools, there's a chance they may attend classes in the same school building.

That's one idea for USD 501 board members to contemplate as they decide on whether to close four Topeka elementary schools over the next year. Quinton Heights Elementary, which hosted the first of four community forums Thursday night, is on the hit list for 2011, along with Linn and Lundgren schools. Avondale East would shut down after the 2011-2012 school year under the proposal that Topekans heard about from the super of the schools.

Dr. Kevin Singer explained the district is facing funding problems on several fronts, led by massive cuts in aid from the state. The lower revenues, combined with higher enrollments, and lower property valuations with no district tax increases have eliminated the spikes in revenues the Topeka district saw even 7 years ago, according to the soon-to-be departing school superintendent.

Singer has urged the board to cautiously draw a little more than $2.5 million from its cash reserves to make up the gap. Along with $1.7 million in cuts from the 501 budget, the main idea being pitched to parents is closing the four schools, to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 million this year.

"If we don't close the schools, that $1.5 million will have to be cut from another area," he told the audience of about 65 people who came out last night.

Increasing and locking in higher salaries for Topeka top teachers, was done right as health care program costs skyrocketed to help cover them.

So what happens if the board votes to close the schools? Singer won't be here to see the first results, but he explained Topeka's plans to go to a few "co-campus models," Pre-Kindergarten students would be folded into existing schools that would house students all the way up to 8th grade, before they transition again to high school. One example is the plan to closing Avondale East in 2012, and shifting the kids to Eisenhower and Ross Middle Schools. Signature programs would be featured at Topeka's magnet schools to continue progress in the AYP rankings.

Topekans are encouraged to offer their online comments on the plans at www.topekapublicschools.net. (At least 300 comments have already been posted by parents of USD 501 children.) Two more forums are planned on the 24th and 27th. The board may begin taking up action on the closure plan by May 5th.

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