Lawrence school board to hold work session on declining enrollment and budget impacts, consider natural gas bill settlement

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The Lawrence school board will meet for a budget work session at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, at 110 McDonald Drive. The board’s regular meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Masks are required due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points — the board will:

Participate in a budget work session led by Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance. Johnson will give the board an update on the district’s enrollment estimates and possible funding impacts through the 2022-23 school year.


↪️ Context: The district has been grappling with budget shortfalls due to state funding decreases, inflationary costs and an enrollment decline. Because enrollment helps determine some aspects of school funding, the district hoped to gain back students who left the district during the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis shared preliminary enrollment numbers for the 2021-22 school year during the Sept. 27 board meeting. Although those numbers showed a 25% return to in-person learning from students the district lost, he said, the district fell short of its goal of gaining back 50% of them.

Meeting presentation materials show the district’s full-time equivalency (FTE) count on Sept. 20 estimated at 10,027 students, which represents an increase of 54 from last school year. The state will use those FTE numbers in the school finance formula to determine funding for the 2022-23 school year. Meeting presentation slides show preliminary estimates by the district could result in a $2 million shortfall in state funding for next school year.

The work session also will address restoring the district’s contingency reserve fund and the work of the Budget and Program Evaluation Subcommittees. Each of the nine subcommittees has been charged with developing three proposals for “significant budget savings” to the district by Dec. 13. A list of those subcommittees is below.

Screenshot/USD 497 Presentation slide provided by the Lawrence school district for its Nov. 29 board meeting

Factoring in estimated increases in utilities and property insurance, restoration of contingency reserves and costs related to staffing and proposed raises, the district’s funding shortfall could rise to more than $6.6 million, as shown below.

Screenshot/USD 497 Possible funding impacts are shown in this presentation slide provided by the Lawrence school district for its Nov. 29 board meeting.

Consider approval of a confidential settlement and release agreement between the district and Constellation NewEnergy – Gas Division, LLC. The board also will consider approval of a five-year purchase agreement with WoodRiver Energy, LLC beginning Dec. 1 to purchase natural gas. Some district buildings would remain on the current service contract until June 1, 2022.

↪️ Context: The district has collaborated with the Kansas Association of School Boards to resolve a $477,000 natural gas bill  from the February 2021 cold spell. Through legal negotiations by KASB and legal counsel, Constellation is entering into settlements with customers, according to a memo included in the agenda.


Part of the undisclosed settlement requires establishment of service with a new vendor. The contract price of $5.25 per unit will not change during the five-year term “absent a material adverse event, such as a tariff increase or decrease over 10%,” the memo states. “If unit prices drop significantly we can extend the contract at a blended rate.”

As part of the consent agenda, these items will be considered with others unless a board member or the superintendent requests an item be removed and voted on separately.

Hear a report on data-informed decision goals within the district’s strategic plan.

↪️ Context: Zachary Conrad, executive director of data and technology, will provide information on how the district supports buildings with access, understanding and use of data, according to the meeting agenda.

No other meeting materials were included in the online agenda at publication time.

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 by phone or videoconferencing.

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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