Recap: Lawrence school board meeting, March 22

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The Lawrence school board met Monday at the Educational Support Center. Here are the items from our preview and what happened with them, plus some additional notes.

Personnel changes:

  • In a new personnel item for consideration, the board approved resignation of Prairie Park Elementary School principal Shannon Harrelson, effective June 30. Harrelson started the job at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.
    • The resignation comes during a time when the district is experiencing declining enrollment and a budget shortfall, which has led the district to consider a plan that would close Kennedy Elementary to K-5 students and repurpose the building as an early childhood community center. If approved, Prairie Park’s enrollment could spike as a result of a Kennedy building closure. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said Harrelson has a position pending with another district.
  • Retirement of David Cunningham, executive director of human resources and chief legal counsel, after 14 years of service. 
  • Promoting Samrie Devin, director of human resources, to executive director of HR, and Sarah Hamlin, human resources supervisor, to assistant director of HR operations, both effective April 5.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda, 6-0, with board member Paula Smith absent

August Rudisell/@KsScanner Kennedy Elementary School in Lawrence is pictured on March 22, 2021.

Key points and outcomes: 

  • Consider the Board Policy Committee’s draft Board Governance and Operating Procedures, intended “to enhance and facilitate a positive board culture.”

Board Vice President Erica Hill asked the board to consider adding “guiding values” to help guide board members’ ethics and conduct toward each other as well as district leadership. Board members discussed interest in changing practices involving the board presidency and who serves in that role. Traditionally, the board member with the most votes in the general election fills that position, but the board wants to consider having the board elect the president and imposing a two-year limit.

Next steps: The board will consider approval of the guide at its April 12 meeting with a possible separate vote regarding procedures to appoint the president.

  • Report from staff on the English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

Participants in the program declined by 353 students between 2016 and 2020, and district staff attribute the dip in part to the way student assessments changed in 2016. During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff implemented additional services, including a language line to communicate with parents and guardians and texting technology that translates texts into numerous languages.

  • Consider a five-year capital improvement plan. See the breakdown here.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda

Purchases and contracts:
  • A five-year contract extension with First Student including a flat, 3.5% increase each year to allow for competitive driver wages and replacement of more than half of the 90-bus fleet. During the first two years of the extension, First Student will unveil tablet technology for drivers, “which will allow real time tracking of students for their parents and administrators,” according to the agenda. The district has contracted with First Student since 1996.
  • Contract for $20,778 for purchase and installation of classroom LED displays and projectors at Free State High School and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School (paid from 2017 bond project fund). 
  • Agreement to purchase and install six backboards in Lawrence High School’s main gymnasium and four ceiling-suspended backboards in the west gym, totaling $43,375 (paid from 2017 bond project fund).

↪️ All passed on consent agenda

Special recognitions:
  • National Merit Scholar finalists:
    • Free State High School: Yoav Gillath, Julia Lin, Isabel Loney, Ayla Nguyen, Spencer Ware and Dingding Ye;
    • Lawrence High School: Joseph Leuschen and Colin Marett 
  • Lawrence High School Red & Black yearbook staffers Sophia Kaufman and Kenna McNally and adviser Barbara Tholen. The yearbook was named as a finalist for the 2020 National Pacemaker awards.

Other notes:

  • Lewis mentioned in his superintendent report he is alarmed by the recent rise in violence and discrimination against members of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities across the country. He encouraged any student or staff member needing assistance, especially members of the AAPI community, to reach out to school counselors and mental health members for support.

Jones echoed Lewis’s message.

“We will not tolerate hate in our schools,” Jones said.

Lewis and several board members spoke out against legislation pending in the Kansas Legislature, including Senate Bill 208, which would block transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams in Kansas. They encouraged citizens to contact their state representatives to voice their opinions on pending legislation.

  • Board member Shannon Kimball said the district owns property at Holcom Park Recreation Center that’s no longer being used. The Facilities Committee has discussed recommending the sale of property with possible action at a future board meeting.
  • The board met in executive session (meaning in private) for 30 minutes at the beginning of the meeting with administrative staff to discuss employer-employee negotiations. At the end of the meeting, the board entered another executive session for 30 minutes with Lewis to discuss nonelected personnel. No action followed either session.

What do you think?

Send us your thoughts:

The board’s next regular meeting is Monday, April 12. The agenda will be available here.

To submit written commentary or to participate via WebEx, email prior to audience participation time on the agenda. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or computer.

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