Superintendent’s contract, efforts to halt slipping graduation rates and more on Lawrence school board agenda

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The Lawrence school board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, July 12, at 110 McDonald Drive. Public attendance is welcome but could be limited due to COVID-19 safety measures. Temperature checks, masks and social distancing will be required.

The meeting begins with an executive session (meaning it’s closed to the public) for 20 minutes to discuss personnel matters with a possible vote to follow. 

A few items of note the board will consider on the consent agenda:

(Consent agenda = items that are considered altogether in one vote unless a board member or the superintendent requests that an item be removed and voted on separately)

• Renewing the contract of Superintendent Anthony Lewis through the 2023-2024 school year.

Lewis’ tenure in the district began in the 2018-2019 school year. According to the Lawrence Public Schools website, the board voted unanimously to extend Lewis’ contract through the 2021-2022 school year in June 2019 during a performance evaluation discussion. The board’s policy manual states that the board “may offer a contract not to exceed three years in length.”

• Reviewing and approving an updated district leadership organizational chart for the 2021-2022 school year. As of Sunday afternoon, a copy of the chart was not included in the agenda packet.

• Designating attorney Brad Finkeldei, of Stevens & Brand LLP, as legal counsel for the upcoming school year at the rate of $150 per hour. Finkeldei also serves on the Lawrence City Commission and is mayor of Lawrence.

Other key points — the board will:

• Hear a report from staff about the Lawrence College and Career Center Academy.

↪ Context: The report will provide an update on student success and challenges during the 2020-2021 school term, the program’s first year. The program includes 10th through 12th graders from Lawrence and Free State high schools and aims to boost graduation rates in the district and remove post-secondary barriers to employment and continued education.

Presentation slides in the agenda packet show declining graduation rates in the district during the last four years, 84.2% to 82.4%, while Kansas’ overall rates have improved, 85.7% to 87.5%.

Consider making about half its meetings as-needed.

↪ Context: Currently, the board generally meets twice each month, with exceptions around winter and spring breaks. If approved, under a proposed draft meeting calendar, the board would meet on the second Monday of each month with a tentative, as-needed meeting on the fourth Monday.

The board first discussed the proposal during its June 28 meeting with mixed reviews by board members. Some welcomed a trial run of the policy, while others expressed concerns. Shannon Kimball said she wondered if reducing the frequency of meetings could slow down policy decisions and make some meetings agenda-heavy. Carole Cadue-Blackwood said she had concerns about rebuilding public trust damaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Paula Smith asked whether new board members taking office in January could acclimate to their new roles as smoothly with fewer meetings.

Kick off the beginning of a new meeting cycle with the election of new leadership for the 2021-2022 school year.

↪ Context: Erica Hill is expected to replace Kelly Jones as board president with Kimball as vice president. 

As the Times has reported, in July 2022, the board will elect its vice president by nomination and majority vote of the board. In July 2023, the board will choose both the president and vice president using the new process. This system replaces the traditional practice of filling the president’s position with the candidate who won the most votes from the public in the general election; however, when the board approved the change at its May 24 meeting, Jones said she expected the board would continue trying to honor the community’s tradition of elevating the candidate with the most votes in the general election to an officer position.

Find the full board meeting agenda and related documents here.

Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26 at 6 p.m. Monday. To sign up to share public comments in person or via WebEx, email before 5 p.m. Monday. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or computer.

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