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Lawrence school board to hear COVID update, consider goals for cash reserves and more

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The Lawrence school board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10 at 110 McDonald Drive. Masks are required to attend in person. The meeting will also be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.

Key points – the board will:

• Welcome new board members.

Context: Newly elected board members Kay Emerson and Andrew Nussbaum and re-elected incumbent Kelly Jones will be sworn in by the Douglas County clerk. The three won their seats in the November general election.

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• Hear a COVID-19 update from Superintendent Anthony Lewis. 

Context: “District staff has learned a lot while managing the COVID response for the past 21 months. Our goal remains to keep students and staff safe and in school,” according to the agenda packet. “… This update will provide the information requested by the Board of Education with regard to our layered mitigation strategies to provide safe learning environments for all staff and students.”

New cases have hit record highs in Douglas County in the past couple of weeks, and many parents and staff members have expressed new concerns about the virus. As of Friday’s update, the district had recorded nearly two dozen cases in staff and students since Jan. 5. 

Click here to see the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence, the Lawrence school district, and Douglas County on the Times’ dashboard.

• Hear recommended goal amounts for some contingency funds in the district’s budget.

Context: The district is facing significant funding challenges, including an anticipated shortfall estimated at about $3.85 million, and staff is looking for savings across the board. A longer-term goal has been to reestablish cash reserves. 

Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance, has compiled recommended goal amounts for the district’s cash reserves. The goals would get the district to a level that lessens the strains on general funds and provides a minimum contingency reserve fund balance for unforeseen emergencies, according to the agenda. One example of an emergency provided in the agenda is an unexpected change in enrollment that could require hiring more staff, as the district saw at Cordley Elementary and other schools this year. 

Altogether, the recommendations call for about $7.13 million to be set aside: $845,000 for health care reserve, almost $4 million for the contingency reserve, and about $1.89 million for special education, along with $100,000 each for At Risk K-12, Bilingual Education, Vocational Education (CTE) and Virtual Education funds. 

“Recognizing the importance of having reserves and setting a goal amount is the first step.”

In other business, the board will consider:

The following items are on the board’s consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda are considered all at once in one vote, unless a board member or the superintendent asks to consider something separately.

• Staff recommendations for the district to build its own private fiber network for about $2.7 million while renewing a month-to-month contract for WiFi with Midco in the interim for about $19,000 per month.

Context: The district currently receives wide area network (WAN) and internet services from Midco, but that contract will expire June 30, 2022. In order to meet the district’s future data needs, there would be a significant increase in cost with Midco. 

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Staff is recommending that the district contract with WANRack to build its own private fiber network instead, for a total construction cost of about $2.7 million. The main benefit to a private network is lowered long-term costs — about $3 million in savings over 20 years, according to the agenda. In the meantime, a month-to-month contract with Midco would be about $18,960 per month. 

These internet services are eligible for federal E-Rate funding and a 60% discount, and the costs in the agenda don’t reflect the discounted prices.

• A recommendation for paraeducator and staff training software with a 36-month contract for $67,000.

Context: The purchase would include contracts for online training modules from 321 Insight, and it would be paid from Special Education ESSER (federal pandemic relief) funds. 

The memo cites COVID-19 as a primary reason for the purchase: “We have been unable to find substitutes for training and to have building/programs fully staffed to allow staff to leave for training. We also continue to see the impact of COVID-19 on the social-emotional needs of our students. Ongoing trauma informed professional development is needed to better support the social-emotional needs of our students.”

The first program, ParaSharp, is designed to help paraeducators address common challenges in the profession. It would also help ensure paraeducators receive the state-required training hours for full reimbursement. The second, Trauma Informed PD (Professional Development), will help all staff become better trauma-informed and give them practical tools and resources, according to the agenda.  

Find the full board meeting agenda and related documents here. Those who wish to provide public comment remotely during the meeting should send an email to PublicComment@usd497.org before 6 p.m. Monday to receive a link to join the videoconference.

Lawrence Times reporters Emma Bascom and Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.

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