Tucked inside the 300 pages of cost-trimming ideas for consideration by the Lawrence school board sits a proposal to combine low-enrollment classes at both district high schools for a potential savings of $195,000.
Lawrence High teacher Sherrie Cleavinger says the agriculture classes she leads in that proposal are part of a Career and Technical Education (CTE) and science program that’s often misunderstood. Although the district could save money with the proposal, the potential opportunities lost could be devastating, Cleavinger said.
Possibilities on the table for ag include the reduction of one teacher, consolidation of the district’s two high schools’ programs and the elimination of a club sponsor stipend. Much more than its traditional reputation for “cows, sows and plows,” the National FFA Organization (often referred to by its former name, Future Farmers of America) delves beyond production agriculture. Its classes are much more leadership- and science-based these days than the general public might realize, Cleavinger said.
“I also have kids who are floral designers … I don’t know how many weddings I’ve worked on with students,” she said. “In my classroom I would say, ‘Let’s make proposals.’ Each kid would create a proposal, do the pricing scheme, calculate the markup and then they would make the proposal to the customer.”
“We want them to be productive in society whether it’s at a bank, retail, in sales. Career and Tech Ed emphasizes those ties to careers,” she said.
Courses currently available to students include Intro to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Animal Science; Plant Science; Veterinary Science; and Floriculture and Greenhouse Management.
An advisory board consisting of parents and community partners helps guide the program, which also undergoes a separate curriculum approval process. CTE classes receive an additional .5 full-time equivalency weighting from the state, meaning more funding, Cleavinger said.
More than two dozen additional cost-cutting proposals have been forwarded to the Lawrence school board for evaluation.
Board President Erica Hill has called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20. A memo in the agenda said the budget work session would give the board an opportunity to hear about the cost-saving ideas “and have conversation amongst themselves about the proposals.”
“No decisions will be made at the work session,” the memo reads.
Closures and reorganization proposals
The possibility of a school closure in the district has grabbed the attention of stakeholders eight months after the school board voted to repurpose Kennedy Elementary.
Although multiple ideas explore closing an elementary or middle school to help balance the Lawrence school district’s budget, the summary of proposals lists no specific schools targeted for closure.
Elementary subcommittee members have homed in on the number of class sections, thresholds and enrollment projections for K-5 schools, according to the proposal documents.
One idea: Combine two-section elementaries into a larger school. Projected enrollment data by the district for 2022-23 shows one- or two-section schools for all grade levels at the following elementaries: Broken Arrow, Cordley, New York and Pinckney.
Notes show the group also discussed “small schools pairing up” such as Cordley, New York, Pinckney and Woodlawn. A proposal moving the Hillcrest Elementary English Language Learners cluster site to Sunset Hill Elementary could produce a savings of $787,000 but would essentially equal a school closing.
Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance, emphasized during the Budget Evaluation and Program Committee meeting Dec. 15 that the purpose of the budget process was to bring the information together for discussion.
In some cases, she said, a “no-changes” approach alone could save the district money via staff attrition, so long as enrollment remained flat for 2022-23. Those proposals appear on the summary with a possible combined savings of $1.2 million for elementary and middle schools. That’s a long way from the budget gap between $3.25 million and $3.85 million Johnson estimates for next school year.
As for proposals involving the closure or restructuring of secondary schools, again, no buildings have been targeted specifically.
In their meetings, middle schools subcommittee members brainstormed various scenarios. They looked at the feasibility of moving sixth graders back to elementaries, creating sixth grade “centers” to help the transition from elementary to middle school with separate centers for seventh and eighth graders, and moving 500 students from Liberty Memorial Central Middle School to the three other middle schools.
More potential job cuts
Notes from meetings indicate jobs “that don’t directly support the classroom” under scrutiny, including learning coaches, student support facilitators and assistant principals who cover multiple schools.
Learning coaches collaborate with teachers to meet the needs of students in the classroom. They also assist educators in professional development.
Student support facilitators assist with restorative practices and social-emotional learning. The “restorative approach to student behavior” is an alternative to traditional punitive discipline, Rick Henry, director of secondary schools, told the board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
With a potential savings between $280,000 and $400,000 at the middle school level, proposal notes say, “Restorative practices work would have to end without student support facilitators and assistant principals. The work they do does directly (impact) classrooms otherwise students would not be sent to them by teachers.”
Another proposal — estimated at $307,000 — suggests eliminating one each of the following positions: curriculum specialist, director and executive director. Pros noted in the meeting notes read, “Perception is that we are top-heavy. This will assist with that perception.”
The district has already acted on at least one of those suggestions. A news release from the district on Dec. 15 announced Jennifer Bessolo, director of curriculum and virtual education, had resigned to take a job at the University of Kansas. “Due to the current budget deficit, the district does not plan to fill the director of curriculum position. These duties will be redistributed among the district’s Teaching and Learning Team,” the release read.
The board’s budget work session and meeting begins at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20. Find the full board meeting agenda and related documents here.
Public commentary is not listed on the meeting agenda. In a November email, district spokesperson Julie said, “The board generally does not take public comment during a special meeting, but that decision always rests with the board.”
After the work session, the board will meet privately in executive session to discuss contract negotiations. No action is expected to follow.
Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26 at 6 p.m. Monday.