Recap: Lawrence school board meeting, June 28

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

The board heard a report on the 2021-2022 budget prep and approval process and new legislation passed in 2021.

↪ Context: The district experienced an enrollment drop of nearly 650 students during the 2020-2021 school year, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Director of Finance Kathy Johnson said freezes on spending, staffing vacancies and retirements, and transportation savings have made up a large chunk of needed savings reductions for the current school year.

Johnson also gave the board an update on the upcoming school year’s budget process and the closing of the current fiscal year’s books. The 2021-2022 budget includes an estimated deficit of $1.6 million, which will result in necessary districtwide cuts.

Johnson told the board the new Revenue Neutral Rate Information law passed by the Legislature means the budget timeline will be extended starting with the new school year. The RNR is the mill rate that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue that was levied the previous tax year, using the current year’s total assessed valuation. 

By July 12, the district has to share with the board the rates being levied and the board would vote to approve the intent to levy above the RNR. The board has to notify the county clerk of intent to levy above the RNR by July 20. The presentation of the budget will occur Aug. 9, and an RNR hearing will then be held in conjunction with the annual budget hearing Sept. 13. The last day to certify the budget with the county clerk and state is Oct. 1.

“It really does change how we navigate this whole thing,” Johnson said about the budget process.

Johnson said the district’s utility bill of $498,000 from February’s bitter cold spell is still pending. An average gas bill is about $54,000 a month. The district has chosen to participate in the Kansas Association of School Board’s coalition for legal arbitration, Johnson said. The disputed charge of nearly $393,000 will need to be put aside by June 30 until final resolution.

To view the slides from Johnson’s presentation, click here.

The board discussed changing its meeting schedule.

↪ Context: The board currently meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Members discussed the possibility of changing the schedule to an in-person meeting the second Monday each month and a virtual meeting on the fourth Monday if necessary. Find a draft of the meeting calendar here.

Board member Shannon Kimball said she had concerns about reducing meeting frequency and whether it would slow down the policy process. Kimball also said she was concerned only meeting once per month could make the first meeting each month very long and agenda-heavy. She suggested using at least one optional meeting per quarter for work sessions or professional development.

Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood said she wanted to make sure voters felt heard and the board had enough time to build its trust back up with the community after the pandemic. Paula Smith expressed concerns about new board members who would start in January and whether only one meeting a month would be enough for them to acclimate to the board.

Board Vice President Erica Hill said the tentative second meeting gave her more confidence to try it.

“The fact that we have that tentative date, it gives me a little bit more comfort that if we needed to exercise that and use that second meeting we have the flexibility and we’re not limiting ourselves.”

The board will vote on the change at its July 12 meeting, which is the board’s annual organizational meeting and the first of the 2021-2022 school year. Leadership will also change with the president’s duties expected to pass from Board President Kelly Jones to Hill.

Other notes:

The board approved an amended personnel report as part of the consent agenda that included the appointment of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School assistant principal and athletic director Mike Gillman to assistant principal and athletic director at LHS effective July 1 . Gillman replaces Nick Wood, who resigned to spend more time with his family. The district will begin an immediate search to replace Gillman at LMCMS, according to a news release.

Special recognitions were given by Superintendent Anthony Lewis to:

Board member Jones for serving as board president during the 2020-2021 school year, which included a large portion of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Community partners, local restaurant owners and volunteers for providing free meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Outstanding Citizen Awards were given to:

Hugh Carter, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce
Dena Johnston, Lawrence Schools Foundation
Chef Rick Martin
Emily Peterson, Merchants Pub and Plate and Lawrence Restaurant Association
K.J. Abel Ruch, United Way of Douglas County
United Way of Douglas County
Jill Jolicoeur, Douglas County
Jeff Ward, Fields and Ivy Brewery
Matt Llewellyn, 23rd Street Brewery
Rick Renfro, J. Wilson’s
Kate Gonzalez, Global Café
Shantel Grace, Ramen Bowls
Doug Holiday, Biggs BBQ
Brad Ziegler, Six Mile Chop House and Big Mill
Caitlin Franz-Quinn, Cheesy Street
Demetrius Kemp, volunteer
Kiley Luckett, volunteer
Gary and Angie Rexroad, volunteers
Bret Dillingham, volunteer

Staff gave the board an update on the district’s strategic plan during a work session before the regular meeting. The presentation included this working draft of building goals for the district’s schools.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, July 12. Find the board meeting agenda and related documents here. Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26.

Email before 5 p.m. July 12 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

More coverage:

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