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Lawrence school board to start meeting with budget work session

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The Lawrence school board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14 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:

• Start with a 90-minute budget work session to hear about 3 packaged options to cut costs.

District staff will take the board through three packages of cost-cutting options — one that would close or repurpose five schools, another that would close no schools, and a halfway point between those two.

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A breakdown of the options shows that the plan to close or repurpose five schools would save less than cutting programs. The district’s updated options for the school board, including the results of the equity impact analysis, were uploaded here

However, the school board members can pick and choose items from any of the three options or make their own suggestions for how the district should balance its budget and, at minimum, eliminate a shortfall estimated between $3.2 and $3.85 million. Board members have already indicated that they want to make cuts closer to $7 million in order to provide for staff raises and to help rebuild contingency funds. 

During the last board meeting, on Jan. 24, Vice President Shannon Kimball explained how legislative factors and declines in student enrollment have culminated in the district’s difficult budget situation. 

• Hear from the public about school closures.

During the Jan. 24 meeting, the board heard from 30 community members during the public comment section of the meeting. Board members also said they had received “hundreds” of emails on the subject.

With recent public demonstrations like Saturday’s “Celebrate Our Schools” rally and “Walk in Their Shoes” events, and a planned Save Our Schools 497 rally before the meeting, it is likely that many community members will speak to the board and advocate for their schools. 

The board has already announced a special meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21. At that time, the board must decide whether to continue the conversation about possibly closing schools in order to conduct public hearings and meet deadlines under state laws. 

The consent agenda includes routine items that are considered altogether with one vote, unless a board member or the superintendent asks to pull an item for discussion. On Monday’s consent agenda, the board will: 

• Consider approving the Free State High School Performing Arts trip to Chicago at no cost to the district.

The Performing Arts department at FSHS collaborated to take students from band, choir, orchestra, and theater programs to Chicago from April 21-24. The trip will include opportunities to see the Chicago Symphony, Broadway in Chicago’s performance of “The Prom,” the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and more, according to the agenda.

The trip is entirely funded through student payments and fundraising, which has already been completed by the performing arts programs. 

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• Consider approving an agreement with the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center.

The district entered into a memorandum of understanding with the center in 2018 to “support our work around equity, access, and opportunity,” according to the agenda memo. The center helped the district create the equity impact analysis tool, which was used at the Feb. 9 BPEC meeting, along with other tools that were used to implement an equity audit and more.

The center is federally funded. The district will only have to pay for travel expenses if center staff need to come to Lawrence, according to the agreement. 

The MOU, in effect Jan. 14 through Sept. 30, will focus on a goal that by September, “75% of participating district team members surveyed will report moderate to significant increase in their capacity to engage in equity-centered strategic planning activities.”

• Consider approving a contract with Bert Nash for $76,000.

Lawrence Public Schools and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center have had an agreement to provide certain services to students. This agreement would extend the agreement for two of those: mental health services at the Juvenile Detention Center and secondary therapeutic classrooms.

Bert Nash will provide a licensed professional for six hours per week for each of the school’s three semesters at JDC to provide individual or group psychotherapy services, a full-time classroom therapist to serve two therapeutic classrooms for up to 10 months, and a full-time classroom supervisor. The cost will be paid from JDC state funds and Special Education funds, according to the agenda

Find the complete school board meeting agenda at this link. Those who wish to give public comment virtually should email PublicComment@usd497.org before 6 p.m. the day of the meeting to receive a link to join the WebEx conference.

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Emma Bascom (she/her), reporter, can be reached at ebascom (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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