Lawrence school board hears concerns about safety, ‘staffing crisis’ from PAL-CWA union members, approves plan for COVID relief funds and more

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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.

Key points — the board:

Heard public commentary from Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communication Workers of America union members.

Context: About 15 union members attended the board meeting. PAL-CWA interim president Hannah Allison told the board they were present to ask the board to “take immediate action to resolve the staffing crisis” and increase staff wages, which Allison said has contributed to the crisis. Low wages, Allison said, are affecting students, especially special education students.


After the board approved PAL-CWA’s  first negotiated contract on Oct. 25, Allison said approximately 425 district hourly employees earned less than $14 per hour.

Carol Allen, paraeducator at New York Elementary, told the board she felt “unsafe” in her training as a para. “I’ve had some situations and I have a feeling that most of my colleagues over there have these situations as well.”

Allen asked union members to stand if they felt their school was not properly staffed, unsafe in their training or undertrained, and overworked or underpaid. All union members stood in front of their chairs.

Approved a proposal for use of $13.6 million the district has been awarded in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, known as ESSER.

Context: The proposal represents a third round of funding for ESSER. The district will submit the application to the Kansas State Board of Education. The district can submit amendments to the grant request later, according to information in the agenda packet, but the district would have to spend ESSER III funds by Sept. 30, 2024.

The district conducted a ThoughtExchange feedback survey about funding priorities earlier in the school year.

The district’s funding proposal breaks down as follows:

  • $4.6 million: Two-year plan for staff retention incentive pay of $1,500 per year for two years, which the board approved at its Sept. 13 meeting
  • $4.17 million: Air quality studies and improvements
  • $1,365,000: Academic interventionists
  • $955,000: Early childhood and after-school care
  • $573,000: After-school tutoring/additional learning opportunities
  • $566,000: Class size reduction and elementary Title I funding
  • $499,000: Full-time certified substitute teacher in each building
  • $390,000: Social and Emotional Student and Staff Supports
  • $252,000: Instructional support and staff professional development to address learning loss
  • $244,000: Technology supports

↪️ Passed on consent agenda 6-0. Board member Melissa Johnson did not attend the meeting.

Approved the Use of Space Agreement for the Kennedy Early Childhood Center, 1605 Davis Road.

Context: The Lawrence school board voted on April 12 to convert Kennedy Elementary School to an early childhood community center and transition 170 K-5 students to Cordley, New York and Prairie Park for the 2021-2022 school year.

The agreement will be used in leasing classroom spaces to community partners. The cost to lease space at the center will be calculated using a three-year average operational cost of $6.46 per square foot, according to information in the agenda packet.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda.

• Met privately in executive session for more than 50 minutes with Superintendent Anthony Lewis to discuss his performance evaluation.

Context: The board is required to conduct an annual evaluation of the superintendent in February but also holds quarterly evaluation check-in sessions with Lewis.

Other notes:

Board president Erica Hill asked that an audience member be removed for disrupting the meeting’s Call to Order. The audience member volunteered to leave. Two Lawrence police officers stood in the back of the room during the meeting.

One member of the public shared support of mask mandates and one person appearing virtually spoke against COVID-19 vaccination clinics at district sites.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22. 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 6 p.m. Nov. 22 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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