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Lawrence school board to make final budget cut decisions; no new recommendations from staff

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The Lawrence school board will meet Monday with plans to make final decisions on budget cuts to balance a multimillion-dollar shortfall.

Months of discussions have culminated in cuts that will include staff members, though the extent is still to be decided.

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In February, school board members voted to take school closures off the table. They asked district administrators to prepare a list of potential cuts, prioritized by those that would harm students least. Just before spring break, administrators provided a list of 23 items totaling about $6.45 million.

An updated list of recommended budget cuts, included in Monday’s meeting agenda, removes two athletics and activities items that the board agreed last week to take off the table for now: high school gymnastics, and a list item that included reductions to all-city choir, novice band and orchestra, flag corp, five club sponsors at each high school and one virtual. The total of those items came to about $41,000.

Despite board members’ requests at their March 22 budget work session, specifically regarding potential additional cuts to administration, the updated list does not include any new cuts to offset those items. The total of new recommended cuts is $6.41 million.

A proposal for a 5% reduction to administrators making $100,000 or more remains on the list of cuts administrators are not recommending, and there are no new proposals for alternative administrative cuts.

The documentation does include a request for board members to clarify whether they wanted to remove all the activities cuts that were lumped into the list item they decided on consensus to remove, and it includes a breakdown of the reductions that were included in that cut, totaling $30,506. See the full lists below.

Administrators also told board members on Tuesday that they would receive a Friday update after discussions with staff members, including district librarians. We requested but did not receive that update.

The district is facing a budget shortfall that is now estimated between $3.62 and $4.27 million. School board members have said they’re looking to make around $7 million in cuts to provide staff raises and rebuild depleted reserve funds. 

Board members have said they want to make final decisions at Monday’s meeting so that staff members can plan accordingly, and so negotiations with unions can proceed.

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In other business, the board will receive an annual update on the district’s progress in five goal areas that the Kansas State Board of Education has identified that are “believed to have direct impact on producing successful high school graduates”: social-emotional factors measured locally, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, high school graduation and postsecondary success.

The 41-page report includes some questions from a districtwide climate survey. Responses to that survey indicate that the district is falling short in two areas: student behavior and discipline, and safe and welcoming schools. The district’s scores on things such as consistency of discipline schoolwide, equal treatment of students, and focusing on problematic behavior rather than the student as a person all declined.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. Monday at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available at this link.

There will be public comment during Monday’s meeting. To participate virtually via phone or WebEx videoconference, email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. the day of the meeting.

Here is administrators’ updated list of recommended budget cuts:

20220325-Budget-recs-updated

Here is the updated list of cuts administrators are recommending against:

20220325-Budget-Reduction-Not-Recommended

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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.

More USD 497 budget coverage:

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

‘At-risk’ student count is up, virtual school enrollment is down; numbers will help guide Lawrence school district’s budget

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will hear an update on the district’s enrollment counts as part of planning for next year’s budget. The number of ”at-risk” students increased more than 50%, but other factors may offset some of that funding.

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