Lawrence school board to conduct final budget hearings, consider retention bonuses for staff

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The Lawrence School Board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13 at 110 McDonald Drive. Masks are required due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points — the board will:

  • Conduct budget hearings to give final approval to the 2021-2022 school year’s budget.

↪ Context: At its Aug. 9 meeting, the board approved the annual mill levies and maximum budget expenditures for publication.

What it means to you: The board proposed a slight decrease of .242 mills from the 2020 tax rate, bringing the levy to 52.880 mills. For the owner of a home valued at $200,000, taxes paid to the district would decrease almost $6 for a total of $1,170.24, so long as the home’s assessed value and general levy remain steady. (For a breakdown of how it all works, check out this article.)

At the same time, the amount of taxes collected by the district is expected to increase from $68.4 million to $69.1 million, which is attributable to the rise of home valuation assessments. That means although the mill levy is expected to decrease, with home values rising, home owners could see their tax bills rise too.

Budgets are published higher than anticipated spending to allow school districts flexibility in program changes. Line-item details within published, approved budgets can change with board decisions, but the maximum budgets and mill levies can’t be exceeded, according to information provided during the Aug. 9 board meeting by Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance.

This year’s budget totals $201 million in spending, compared to $159 million last year. Significant increases in special revenue such as food service, special education and federal funds from COVID-19 pandemic relief grants have helped boost that total.

The board will conduct two back-to-back budget hearings due to the Legislature’s addition of the revenue neutral rate hearing requirements. The new law requires governing bodies — in this case, the school board — to inform taxpayers and invite public input before approving a budget that includes a tax increase related to assessed property valuations or property tax increases.

  • Consider approval of a retention bonus program for most employees for this school year and next.

↪ Context: The district wants to implement a plan to use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, known as ESSER, for retention incentive pay in order to retain employees. The agenda packet includes a memo that states, “COVID-19 has significantly impacted the district’s ability to retain staff. Research shows that retention of staff plays an important role in student success.”

Non-contracted employees such as substitutes, tutors, and seasonal on-call and temporary workers, as well as Rule-10 coaches, would not be eligible for the bonuses.

If approved, the plan would provide bonuses three times for the 2021-2022 school year and next. A $500 bonus would be awarded in October, March and June the first year for a total of $1,500 in potential bonuses. The second year, payouts in the same amounts would arrive in October, March and May.

Lawrence Public Schools

The plan would benefit about 1,700 district employees and cost nearly $5.4 million, including employer-related costs, and be contingent upon approval by the Kansas State Department of Education.

• Discuss the board’s financial priorities for the 2021-2022 school year and provide direction for the Budget and Program Evaluation Committee.

↪ Context: According to a memo in the agenda packet, the board established a budget and program evaluation committee in 2018 to provide input for the evaluation of budget decisions. The committee has 25 representatives from across the district.

The recent decline in enrollment and enrollment weightings has created budget challenges, including near extinction of cash reserves and deficit spending similar to challenges the board faced in 2018, according to the memo. 

Some possible discussion points include boosting contingency reserves, closing deficit gaps in enrollment numbers and employee compensation strategies.

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 6 p.m. Monday. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or video conferencing.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for Sept. 13-19, 2021