The Lawrence school district continues efforts to finalize plans eight months after the school board’s vote to close Kennedy Elementary School to grades K-5.
Facing an ongoing enrollment decline and a combined budget shortfall of $3 million for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, school officials earlier this year proposed reshuffling Lawrence’s elementary school population.
In April, the school board voted 6-1 to cut costs by closing the K-5 classroom space at Kennedy and transferring the students to three other elementary schools: Cordley, New York and Prairie Park. The district planned to use the Kennedy building, at 1605 Davis Road, to expand early childhood education and high-quality childcare for Douglas County families.
Here’s an update on how that’s going, and what it could mean as the district looks to tackle its financial troubles.
Plans in the works
A proposal to expand early education programs at the site already has received grant funding.
Today, the Kennedy building still houses the district’s early childhood offerings. Programs for early school readiness, peer modeling, and adult and special education operate there, as well as tiny-K Early Intervention of Douglas County, ECKAN Douglas County Head Start and Parents as Teachers. It’s also home to an inclusive new playground that features wide pathways and ground-level entry to provide accessibility no matter a child’s method of mobility.
District spokesperson Julie Boyle said the only community organization currently renting space at Kennedy was Head Start, which operated there before the closure of Kennedy’s K-5 classrooms. The district rents the space at a rate of $6.46 per square foot. It cannot generate income from leasing the space but can bill for reimbursement of costs, Boyle said.
As the Kansas Reflector reported in November, local nonprofit Community Children’s Center (CCC) received a $582,000 grant from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund to implement new strategies for expanding affordable childcare openings in Douglas County.
The grant supports community-based efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect, according to a Nov. 4 news release by CCC. It also states plans are underway for a “three-fold model” of services at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center that includes:
- A Family Resource Center for basic needs for families with young children.
- A Provider Academy to give ongoing support and recruit new and retain existing care providers and education professionals.
- An onsite business incubator to increase “accessible, affordable and available high-quality childcare and education slots in Douglas County.”
A memorandum of understanding with CCC is on the school board’s agenda for its Monday meeting.
Closure a partial remedy for budget woes?
School officials estimated the district would save $722,000 by closing Kennedy’s K-5 classrooms, mostly through a reduction of 11 staffing positions.
Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance for the district, told members of the Budget Program and Evaluation Committee at its Oct. 13 meeting the district had come “really close” to realizing those savings.
Class sizes have been one issue of concern for some families of Kennedy Elementary and the three schools that absorbed 145 total students. The issue may gain more attention as the district struggles to balance its budget amid continuing enrollment woes and cuts of at least $2 million needed for the 2022-23 school year.
Each of nine subcommittees within the district’s Budget Program and Evaluation Committee has been tasked with proposing three “significant budget savings” plans by Monday, Dec. 13, while the Boundary Advisory Committee continues monitoring building capacity and enrollment across the district.
Together, those committees will offer recommendations to the board in an attempt to balance the district’s budget. The committees’ recommendations to the board last spring spawned the changes at Kennedy Elementary School.