Board members direct administrators to make up remainder of cuts
Article updated at 12:07 a.m. Tuesday, March 29:
After a failed motion, much discussion and multiple recesses, the Lawrence school board on Monday voted on a package of budget cuts that includes a much smaller cut to librarians than what administrators had recommended.
The total of specific cuts approved so far comes to about $6.07 million. The nuanced motion, approved on a 4-3 vote, accepted the administrators’ budget recommendations as presented with the exception of the item that would restructure library media staffing.
In its place, the board instead accepted a revised proposal from district librarians that cuts $240,320 in staffing, and a proposal from the elementary scheduling committee, which recommends $24,000 in elementary substitute savings.
This proposal does not cut as deep as the district’s, so the board also directed administration to make up the $364,962 difference “through a combination of cuts to learning coaches and administration.” Those cuts will come back to the board for final approval, and total cuts should reach close to $6.44 million.
Last week, library media specialists were shocked to learn that proposed cuts totaling more than $605,000 would eliminate about two-thirds of their jobs. Late Sunday, they submitted their alternative proposal for the board to consider.
The revised K-12 library media proposal that librarians put together will cut two library media specialist positions — one each at elementary and middle school levels. The proposal also includes a loss of nearly 5 full-time equivalent library media assistant positions.
“I’m just so thankful that enough board members valued the educators’ perspectives over the testimony of the administration that we were able to save so much of the library program,” Fallon Farokhi, library media specialist at Sunset Hill Elementary, said Monday night.
The motion narrowly passed with board President Erica Hill, Vice President Shannon Kimball, Kelly Jones and Paula Smith voting “yes,” and “no” votes from Kay Emerson, Andrew Nussbaum and Carole Cadue-Blackwood.
Kimball’s initial motion did not require administrators to bring their new cuts back to the board for approval, which was a hangup for Nussbaum. Jones’ vote changed from “no” to “yes” between the first motion and the second.
Those opposed did not elaborate on their specific reasons for voting against the second motion, but they had each raised concerns about parts of the first motion not connected to preserving librarians’ jobs.
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.
Members of PAL-CWA, the classified staff union, came to remind the board that there are still nearly 400 district staff members making between $11 and $13 per hour. The union has been pushing for all its members to be paid at least $15 per hour.
After rallying before the meeting, PAL-CWA representatives also came to provide public comment, wearing signs taped to their shirts stating how long they have worked in the district and how much they are paid. They unrolled a long petition signed by many of the district’s classified staff.
“I’ve worked in the district for 35 years and I make $11.70,” one of the signs read.
Kimball noted that cuts beyond what the district legally must make to balance its budget are necessary in order to raise those wages. Each 1% increase in wages for districtwide staff — including hourly, certified and administration — means an $825,000 expenditure.
Broken down, that total includes $560,000 for certified staff, $182,000 for classified staff and $83,000 for administration, Cynde Frick, executive director of finance, shared at the board’s March 22 meeting.
In commentary at the beginning of the meeting, Emerson directly addressed the staff members who will lose their jobs because of the board’s decisions.
“I’m sorry that our district has failed you, and I want to also let you know that I appreciate and I thank you for your service and time with our district,” she said. “We all have to hope that, moving forward, we make better decisions, financially.”
About a dozen other members of the community spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the evening, which was filled with support for district staff — especially librarians.
Commenters discussed the wide range of what librarians do for students, like instructing students in digital media literacy, curating well-represented collections and being there for students during challenging times.
“What you have been proposed with tonight is like asking the custodian at the hospital to sew up your wounds,” one commenter said.
The approved cuts, with the exception of the library media line item, are as shown on this list:20220325-Budget-recs-updated
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Emma Bascom (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from December 2021 through May 2022. Read more of her work for the Times here.