Lawrence school district staff members working on budget cuts; report projects decline in enrollment statewide

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The budget deficit was not the main focus of Monday’s Lawrence school board meeting, but district staff members have continued working to identify solutions, according to Superintendent Anthony Lewis’ report to the board. 

The district is facing a budget shortfall estimated between $3.2 and $3.85 million, and the budget legally must be balanced by July 1. On Feb. 14, school board members came to a consensus to take closing schools off the table for the 2022-23 school year; instead, they have asked district staff to develop potential budget cuts prioritized by those that cause the least direct harm to students. 

Lewis on Monday presented a timeline overview showing how district staff members are trying to create that list of cuts (see below). He also shared statewide enrollment projections from the Kansas Association of School Boards. 

The KASB statewide projections Lewis shared indicated that the district’s budget issues likely will not be offset by increased enrollment within the next few years. 

The Kansas Legislature determines funding for school districts on a per-pupil basis, so school funding is proportional to the number of students enrolled. A drop in enrollment in 2020-21 is a big factor in the Lawrence district’s budget crisis

“The projected numbers indicate there will be a slight decline next year, followed by declines of at or above I% for each year until 2026-27,” the KASB report states. 

Statewide, KASB anticipates that total enrollment in smaller (1A, 2A, and 3A) schools will see a 0.2% increase by 2026-27. But total enrollment at larger (4A, 5A, and 6A) schools is expected to decrease by 6.7% over the same time frame, the report shows. 

The projections are based on two factors, according to the report:

“The first is the number of children born in Kansas each year. KASB uses this as a baseline for determining how many potential public school students are in the state and then calculates a ratio of the students born during a particular school year to the number of students enrolling in Kindergarten six years later. … The second factor is the historical enrollment data and the retention of students from one grade to the next.”

The report says the statewide decline in enrollment from 2019-2021 may be having an impact on overall projections that will prove to be an overestimation of the decline the state will see; however, “it should be noted that the enrollment projections calculated over the past several years have been predicting a continued downward trend in total enrollment.” 

School board members have not yet set a special meeting before their next regularly scheduled one, which will be at 6 p.m. Monday, March 28. However, they have discussed March 21 or 23 as tentative dates to meet and review budget cut proposals. 

Read more from Monday’s school board meeting, including a visit from State Board of Education member Ann Mah, an administrative study, updates to elementary English Language Arts and more at this link.

Lewis shared the following overview, which he said was crafted by Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly, in his report to the school board on Monday:

  • February 21: Board of Education Meeting – Charge to administration: The district and building administration will recommend a list of budget cuts, as deep as they feel comfortable recommending, and prioritize the list by cuts that cause the least harm to students. The board established March 28 as the timeline for making decisions about budget cuts.
  • February 22: The Executive Leadership Team develops a timeline and process for collecting district and building administrator feedback to develop a prioritized list of cuts.
  • February 23: The Teaching and Learning Team develops a 2022-23 Budget Reduction Proposal form for building and district administrations soliciting additional budget proposals or modifications/suggestions around current proposals.
  • February 24: 2022-23 Budget Reduction Proposal form is sent to building and district administrators. Submissions will be accepted through Monday, February 28th at 12:00 pm.
  • February 25: A table with each budget proposal will be created that provides notes from the BPEC Subcommittee, administration’s narrative of the impact on student learning, an equity analysis (to be completed by administration), score for the budgetary impact and level of harm to students (this tool will be developed by Dr. Conrad) and notes around the implementation of this reduction.
  • February 28: Responses from the 2022-23 Budget Reduction Proposal form will be collected and budget estimates developed for Executive Leadership Team review.
  • March 1: The Executive Leadership Team will review new proposals, add additional proposals recommended by administration team members and refine proposals in preparation for building and district administrative review on March 3.
  • March 2: The Teaching and Learning Team will group proposals and assign teams of building and district administrators to develop a narrative of the impact on student learning and an equity analysis for each item in the group of proposals. These proposals and assignments will be shared with building and district administrators on Wednesday, March 2nd. Administrative team members with specific feedback on a proposal should contact the team of building and district administrators working on that proposal in advance of Administrative Professional Development to share their thoughts.
  • March 3: Administrative Professional Development. Teams of building and district administrators will develop a narrative of the impact on student learning, any cost-neutral actions that might mitigate harm, and an equity analysis for each item in the group of proposals. All administrators will provide a score for the budgetary impact and the level of harm to students for each proposed budget reduction.
  • March 4 – 7: Data from Administrative Professional Development will be collected and packaged for review by the Executive Leadership Team. All budget numbers will be reviewed and updated.
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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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