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Lawrence school board takes some activity cuts off the table for now

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Gymnastics and clubs are safe, at least for now, Lawrence school board members decided Tuesday evening during a budget work session. 

The board did not make final decisions about most items on a list of 23 recommendations from administration, but they opted to take those two student activities cuts — totaling about $41,000 — off the table. 

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The district is facing a budget shortfall estimated between $3.2 and $3.85 million dollars, though the school board members have said they’re looking to make around $7 million in cuts to address staff compensation and depleted reserve funds. On Tuesday, Executive Director of Finance Cynde Frick said that with an estimated loss of funding from declining enrollment, plus increases in property/liability insurance and utility costs, the district will most likely need to save between $3.62 and $4.27 million. 

On top of the shortfall, each 1% in raises that the board wants to give will cost about $825,000, Frick said. Broken down, that total includes $560,000 for certified staff, $182,000 for classified staff and $83,000 for administration. 

Board members reached a consensus to remove line item 13, which was looking at the reduction of clubs and activities like novice band/orchestra, all-city choir and more. They decided to table the discussion about cutting the girls gymnastics program until they receive the results of an ongoing Title IX evaluation. 

Another easy item was a cellphone audit. Larry Englebrick, executive director of facilities and operations, said that would simply involve looking through all district cellphones to see which are in use and cut off service to ones that aren’t. Staff will also determine the best carrier. That’s estimated to save $5,000. 

Other items weren’t as quickly decided. Board members said they needed more information to make decisions about several other potential cuts. 

One of the most contentious line items was the reduction of library media specialists across the district, a cut estimated at about $605,000. Board President Erica Hill said she had some “heartburn” about cutting library media specialists. Board Vice President Shannon Kimball said she was also concerned about that recommendation and would like to hear more about what that would actually look like in the district. 

Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly said he would send the board more concrete information on Friday, and try to get feedback from current library media specialists.

“We may give you one or two options. We may give you a couple of different options there. We want to make sure that we’re including resources in that. Part of the restrictions that we didn’t talk about earlier is like how much money we spent on materials that go in the library — let’s think about those things as well,” he said. 

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Board members also expressed concern about line items that would restructure the AVID program, restructure special education, and reduce custodians and other staff. 

Board members Kay Emerson, Andrew Nussbaum and Carole Cadue-Blackwood expressed near the beginning of the meeting that they wanted to go line by line to understand each recommendation and what they mean for staff and students, citing clarity and transparency issues.

“We owe it to our constituents to go line by line,” Cadue-Blackwood said.

Hill said she would “push back on the narrative about the lack of transparency,” and Superintendent Anthony Lewis explained that the team compiling the list had already gone through the items line by line. He said one of the reasons the district provided the list of recommendations before spring break was to avoid spending too much time in Tuesday’s meeting going line by line, and instead address specific questions. 

“We did what the board asked us to do in terms of giving this list. We looked at these from an equity standpoint. … I don’t wanna waste the board’s time. We did that work. So I ask the board that you trust us to do that work to give you this prioritized list,” he said. 

The board will need to make final decisions on all the line items at their next meeting, Monday, March 28. Board members will also hear public comment at that meeting. There was no public comment during Tuesday’s special meeting.

In closing, Hill and Lewis thanked the board for the thoughtful discussions throughout the evening. Lewis also thanked community members, district staff and everyone on various committees and subcommittees who has worked to look at the cuts “from an equity standpoint.” 

“We too are concerned about these cuts. Nobody wants to make these cuts. … Coming up with close to $7 million is very difficult, right? We have come a long way from the initial conversations. … I think we’re here at a pivotal point,” Lewis said.

“The fact of the matter is more than 80% of our budget is in staff, and the board obviously has to legally balance the budget. Again, these are tough decisions, but I do believe we have a plan to get to where we need to go.”

Note: This article was updated to swap the main image.

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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.

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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