Lawrence school district’s budget committee supports school closures, initial poll indicates

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Article updated at 7:28 p.m. Thursday:

Closing a middle school and two or more elementary schools; sharing staff across high schools; eliminating a director of curriculum; and cutting some special education support positions.

Those were some of the top-ranked cost-cutting proposals that members of the Lawrence school district’s Budget and Program Evaluation Committee indicated they would support in an anonymous initial survey.


Kathy Johnson, outgoing executive director of finance for the district, shared the tally during BPEC’s meeting Thursday. The committee has been considering numerous proposals that would help the district patch an estimated budget shortfall of $3.2 million to $3.85 million. That amount would leave no room in the budget to increase wages or start rebuilding contingency funds, however, so the school board is looking to cut closer to $7 million. 

Johnson said she received between 17 and 20 responses from BPEC members regarding which of the cost-cutting proposals they would support. An online membership list indicates the committee has 25 members.

The proposal that received the most support from members, with 17 votes, was to have low-enrollment high school classes share staff. That would save an estimated $195,000 — which is about 5% of the higher end of the budget shortfall estimate. 

The proposals that have drawn the most attention and rebuke from the community have been those that would close one or more elementary schools and a middle school.

Twelve members voted that they would close Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. Those students would transfer to one of the district’s other three middle schools with the majority landing at Billy Mills Middle School. However, that proposal cannot be done alone. 

BMMS doesn’t have enough space for the 900 or more transfer students — it would be necessary to close neighboring Broken Arrow Elementary, as well. Broken Arrow students would go to Schwegler, and some current Schwegler students would transfer to other schools as well. Ultimately, boundary lines would be redrawn and affect K-8 students across Lawrence.

Eight committee members voted that they would support closing Broken Arrow, New York, Woodlawn and Pinckney elementary schools. In that scenario, New York, Woodlawn and Pinckney students would transfer to what would become a repurposed Liberty Memorial Central Elementary. That change would yield the largest estimated monetary savings for the district, of about $3.25 million. 

Seven members supported closing Broken Arrow and New York elementaries, which would save about $2.89 million in combination with LMCMS. Three said they would support closing Broken Arrow and Woodlawn, which would save about $2.92 million if combined with closing LMCMS. 

The Boundary Advisory Committee also heard some scenarios that would only close a single school. None of those proposals were included in BPEC’s vote.

The savings do not take into account what the transportation costs would be for busing. First Student is working through the scenarios to determine those costs, Johnson said Thursday. 

Other proposals that received numerous committee members’ votes and the estimated savings they would bring are as follows:
  • 16 votes to eliminate a half-time director of curriculum position; $57,114.
  • 15 votes to restructure gifted special education; $34,529. 
  • 14 votes to reduce high school buildings’ budgets by 15%; $64,456. 
  • 14 votes to eliminate a vacant special education support position; $34,529.
  • 14 votes to eliminate a vacant special education secretary position; $34,746.
  • 12 votes to eliminate a director position; average cost of $122,299. 
  • 12 votes to reduce the electricity budget; $65,000. 
  • 12 votes to reduce supply budget for bulk purchasing and replacement cycles; $40,000.
  • 11 votes to eliminate an executive director position; average cost of $140,716.
  • 11 votes to eliminate a curriculum specialist/coordinator; average cost of $86,607. 
  • 10 votes to reduce professional development; $50,000.
  • 9 votes to reconfigure AVID; $100,000. 

Details about the proposals can be found on the BPEC website at this link


Next steps

BPEC members will take a second vote on the proposals again by Monday, “in order to see if anything changed from your first take of things, especially as you’ve learned more information and other things have occurred in different spaces,” Johnson said. 

The school board will meet Monday, Jan. 31 to discuss scenarios proposed by the BPEC and the Boundary Advisory Committee.

BAC is set to meet again on Feb. 2. On Wednesday, members of that committee indicated that they wanted to vote anonymously on which school closure proposals to eliminate as options and which should remain in consideration. If the district proceeds with that vote, the results will be shared at that Feb. 2 meeting. 

BPEC meets again on Feb. 9 to put proposals through an equity evaluation tool. 

The school board then meets again Feb. 14. At that time, the board members must decide whether they want to hold public hearings on any school closure proposals; if so, those hearings would take place on or around March 9, and the board would make final decisions on April 11. 

Meetings are generally livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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