Article updated at 2:39 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9:
As conversations continue about how the Lawrence school district can patch a budget shortfall between $3.2 and $3.85 million, the Budget and Program Evaluation Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon to examine the equity impacts of cost-cutting proposals.
The most visible cost-cutting proposals — and the ones that are most daunting to many Lawrence school families and district staff members — are those that could close or repurpose multiple elementary schools and a middle school.
There are other proposals under consideration that would help save on costs without closing schools, but district estimates show a plan that would reduce the district’s total elementary schools from 13 to 10 and total middle schools from four to three would generate the greatest monetary savings, estimated at about $3.25 million. That number does not take into account potential new transportation needs.
The proposal to close those schools has raised numerous concerns for district families, particularly over issues of equity. Geographically, the schools that would be targeted for closures are primarily in eastern and northern Lawrence.
Click here to open the map in a new window/view a better mobile version.
Eight of the district’s 13 elementary schools are Title I schools, meaning they qualify for extra federal funding to help minimize disparities in math and reading. To qualify for Title I funding, students from families with low incomes must make up at least 40% of the school body.
All five of the elementary schools that could face closures under various proposals — Broken Arrow, New York, Pinckney, Woodlawn and Hillcrest — qualify for Title I, according to a recent presentation from Kathy Johnson, who recently retired as executive director of finance for the district.
District staff members have been working on an equity analysis tool to focus on how various budget proposals affect marginalized people. Julie Boyle, spokesperson for the district, sent us the tool ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. Boyle said the Equity Impact Analysis tool was modeled after the school board’s Equity Policy and developed in collaboration with the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center.
Below is the one-page rubric that members of BPEC and other district committee members and staff members will use to evaluate numerous cost-cutting proposals in small groups. It asks those filling in the rubric to provide ratings, rationales, explanations and evidence.
Those filling in the charts will be asked to consider marginalized people, including those living in under-resourced communities, people with disabilities, and racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse people, and to what extent various groups’ interests are being served by each proposal. (Click here to download the PDF.)EQUITY-IMPACT-ANALYSIS-TOOL-2.8.2022
The BPEC meeting is open to the public, though committees do not take public comment. The meeting is set for 4 to 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. The meeting will also be livestreamed on YouTube, though work in small groups generally does not translate well to a live feed.
The BPEC in recent months has been tasked with determining ways that the district can close its budget shortfall. One suggestion from BPEC members was to close a school, though they did not name a specific school. Zach Conrad, director of data and technology, on Jan. 12 presented more specific proposals to the Boundary Advisory Committee, including “Scenario 1,” which would close and repurpose several schools.
Boyle said in an email last week, “The BAC meeting this week was canceled so staff could prepare for the Equity Impact Analysis of budget-saving proposals from 4-6:15 p.m. February 9. School board and district advisory committee members are being invited to participate. These groups include the Budget and Program Evaluation Committee & subcommittees, Equity Advisory Council, Parents of Color Advisory Team, Native American Student Services Parent Committee, Superintendent’s Advisory Council, District Site Council, District Student Equity Council, and the Lawrence Special Education Advisory Committee.”
Ultimately, the Lawrence school board will have to decide what to do to close the multimillion-dollar budget gap, but the district legally must balance its budget. Here’s how board members were leaning on school closures as of Friday, Jan. 28.
On Tuesday, school board President Erica Hill also announced a special board meeting to discuss the budget proposals. The board will have its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14, followed by the special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21.