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:
• Learned from Superintendent Anthony Lewis the district did not qualify for the three-year averaging of enrollment by the state. That translates to $3.3 million in permanent and ongoing budget reductions, according to estimates by Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance.
↪️ Context: The district will need to realize its full 2019 enrollment drop of 597.5 full-time equivalent of students for funding purposes during the 2022-23 school year.
Lewis said he asked Board President Erica Hill to call a special budget meeting for Monday, Dec. 20 to hear cost-saving proposals from the nine recently formed budget subcommittees. More details about the workshop are forthcoming.
• Heard from members of the public with concerns about budget cut proposals in the district.
↪️ Context: The district’s proposal to end the girls gymnastics program at its two high schools, coupled with the recent formation of budget subcommittees to explore budget cuts, has sparked vocal community support for student programs.
Tatyana Younger, executive vice president of PAL-CWA, told the board their classified staff union would not allow cuts to programs such as art, music and student activities that “bring our kids joy.”
Younger, a 2017 alum of the district, suggested instead that the district enact upper administration furloughs or make “considerable cuts” to their salaries.
Younger told the board the union would bargain its next contract through the formal process required by law and not in budget-cutting work sessions. “We will not pick winners and losers out of our own coworkers by sitting in budget meetings and talking about which schools to close or which jobs to cut.”
Younger asked board members to raise wages to $15 an hour for classified staff, some of whom rely on public assistance, sleep in cars and work multiple jobs while some administrators make more than $100,000 annually. “We ask that you please keep the commitment that you made at the end of bargaining of our first contract and creatively — together with our community — find the money that it will take to raise all of classified staff wages by 40% to ensure that our 400 lowest paid workers can finally make a living wage.”
Melinda Lavon told the board she was concerned about “the lack of transparency” in the budget-trimming process and “the really tight timeline” during the holidays. Lavon said parents had been excluded from the committees and suggested upper administrative pay increases should be evaluated.
“That is offensive for anybody to say, ‘Hey, I might need to get rid of this program. We might need to close this school,’ when the leadership has not taken the time to look in the mirror, look at those pay increases at the admin level first before you start asking us to give up things.”
Later in the evening, board member Kelly Jones told the board she attended a New York Elementary site council meeting recently. “One of the things that came out of that conversation, and speaking to innovation, was a conversation about what New York Elementary School could be in the upcoming years, and is it a spot where we could see some innovation around potential Montessori education.”
Although multiple speakers talked about possible proposals to close or consolidate schools, it was unclear which, if any, would land on the subcommittees’ proposals for budget cuts.
• Heard from supporters of the girls’ gymnastics program.
↪️ Context: A year after Free State High School took the 6A state title in gymnastics, the Lawrence school district has advanced a proposal to cancel the program at both high schools.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the board and administration had no intention of voting on the recommendation tonight and doesn’t enter those decisions lightly.
Lewis said the proposal wasn’t just “about a dollar.”
“Concerns for the lack of adequate equipment, space, storage, for practices and competitions, concerns for safety and staff that is charged with moving the equipment, and the wear and tear on the equipment. Also the concerns for safety for existing equipment which is in need of repair or replacement, and obviously the space limitations,” Lewis said.
Head Coach Kat Farrow, one student and one parent spoke during public commentary about the harm of losing the no-cut sport comprised of 22 athletes.
Farrow called gymnastics a low-cost program for the district and parents. “This school district has said that the main focus for our city and for our students is that they have opportunities for inclusion, engagement, belonging, and particularly right now, mental health.”
Chaney Finkeldei, a senior and four-year gymnast at Free State High School, told the board club gymnastics participation outside school is costly, intense and often leads to burnout.
Finkeldei said the opportunity to participate in gymnastics in high school allowed her to also engage in academic rigor as a National Merit Semifinalist and extracurricular activities such as cheerleading, track and field, student council and school club participation.
Gymnastics, Finkeldei said, carries over into other sports and helps with discipline and self-confidence.
“I just think that without the gymnastics program here, none of these students would have had the opportunity to become involved in their school and to become the people that they are and the athletes that they are.”
• Approved the district’s legislative priorities for the upcoming 2022 Kansas legislative session.
↪️ Context: When lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January, education issues and COVID-19 are expected to be hot topics. Lewis suggested parents could play a role as advocates with their legislators.
Board member Shannon Kimball noted districts in Johnson and Shawnee counties work together as a collective in their lobbying efforts and the district might consider teaming up with other Douglas County schools in a similar fashion during future legislative sessions.
The board has prioritized these legislative issues:
- Support related to pandemic recovery, graduation requirements, personalized educational opportunities, broadband access, post-secondary success and increased transportation funding for students living less than 2.5 miles from school.
- Additional funding in social-emotional support for staff and students. This priority also urges the Legislature “to review and eliminate the use of Native American mascots, imagery and names by educational institutions and sports teams, unless used by a tribal school or educational institution.”
- Support nonpartisan spring elections for school board members and the role of an independent judiciary.
- Support equitable and adequate public school funding in Kansas tax policy and school finance formula. This priority specifically addresses funding related to special education, mental health, universal pre-K, before- and after-school programs and at-risk services.
- Protect and maintain authority given to Kansas State Board of Education and locally elected school boards in areas such as curriculum, graduation, financial management and more.
- Support recruitment and retention of highly qualified and diverse teachers, administrators and support staff.
↪️ Passed 7-0.
• Approved a recommendation to purchase Lawrence High School band uniforms for $116,000.
↪️ Context: The board approved up to $125,000 for the purchase in its Capital Improvement Plan on March 22.
The uniforms will replace those bought in 2009 and come with a 12-year guarantee to be free from material and workmanship defects. This district receives a 4% savings from Fruhauf Uniforms, Inc., for paying at the time of order placement.
The board initially approved up to $125,000 for the purchase in its Capital Improvement Plan on March 22. The CIP also shows a plan to replace band uniforms at Free State High School during the 2022-23 school year.
• Approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for collaboration on the Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities (WRAP) program for the 2021-22 school year.
↪️ Context: The city of Lawrence will discontinue WRAP funding in the Lawrence school district, where the program operates in six elementaries, all four middle schools and both high schools. The MOU has been updated for consistency with WRAP program agreements in other Douglas County school districts, according to information in the agenda packet.
• Approved a 10-year agreement with Community Children’s Center (CCC).
↪️ Context: CCC has received a $582,000 grant to fund a multiyear pilot project for an early childhood center at the district-owned Kennedy Early Childhood Center, 1605 Davis Road. The MOU outlines the responsibilities of both parties in leasing space to CCC.
• Approved an MOU with Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence and the acceptance of a $107,000 donation in grant funds.
↪️ Context: BGC of Lawrence and the district will collaborate to update and secure entrances in five district elementary buildings with grant funds disbursed to BGC.
The band uniforms and all MOUs passed on the consent agenda, 7-0.
This was the last regular board meeting for board members Melissa Johnson and GR Gordon-Ross. Kay Emerson and Andrew Nussbaum will start their terms in January alongside Kelly Jones, who won reelection in November.
Saying the behavior cannot be tolerated, Lewis mentioned recent threats of school violence — some involving alleged false reports — at middle schools.
Billy Mills, Liberty Memorial Central and Southwest middle schools have all participated in police investigations during the last week, according to news releases from district spokesperson Julie Boyle.
“While we cannot discuss student disciplinary matters due to student privacy rights, we can share that there are serious consequences for any student falsely reporting a crime and by doing so, threatening the safety of our schools,” Boyle wrote.
Lewis said the district needs assistance from its families to “help put a stop to this.”
“Please talk to your children at home tonight and continue those conversations about the seriousness of making threats, that they may think it’s funny or amusing or any type of false reporting on school violence. Again, please talk to your children about your own expectations of their behavior,” he said.
The board heard from nine members of the public related to budget cut proposals, high school gymnastics, classified staff wages, the board’s natural gas bill settlement with Constellation NewEnergy – Gas Division LLC, and face masks.
The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10. Find the board meeting agenda and related documents here. Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26.
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