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Lawrence Public Schools cut 72 teaching jobs; will add third Montessori classroom

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Staff shares new info on multi-grade classrooms

Article updated at 11:18 p.m. Monday, May 23:

The Lawrence school district has cut six dozen education positions, 11.5 classified staff positions and 6.5 district-level administrator positions, according to a staff presentation Monday evening. 

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The school board made about $6.41 million in budget cuts this spring. The board gave staff guidance on where to make cuts but allowed staff to make decisions about which specific positions would be cut, and from which buildings. 

“Two-thirds of that $6.4 million reduction needed to be reduced from current staffing,” Kristen Ryan, executive director of human resources, told the board. “The reduction process, as I shared prior, was sensitive, challenging and was an ever-changing puzzle.”

She said HR staff had tried to help staff members find “a new best fit if their position had changed.”

“Reductions were made through retirements and exits,” Ryan said. “We did not have to use our reduction in force policy, and teachers whose positions were reduced were given the opportunity to transfer to open positions before those positions were open to external candidates.”

The presentation did not include numbers to indicate how many staff members resigned rather than transfer into open positions. 

“We did do an exit survey for our staff members that are leaving and we do have increased exits due to the fear of the unknown, salary, job satisfaction, workload, leadership, relocation,” Ryan said. “Those were some of the high-level topics that were repeated throughout the survey.” 

Montessori program update

Staff also provided an update on the Montessori program coming to New York Elementary this fall. 

With updated numbers for anticipated enrollment, district staff members told the board there would be enough students to fill three Montessori classrooms rather than the two initially planned. 

The presentation to the board showed that 62 students — 34 kindergarteners within the New York boundaries, 20 3- and 4-year-olds, and 8 kindergarten transfer requests — are projected to enroll. Without adding another classroom, there would be a waitlist of nearly two dozen students who Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district would probably lose to private schools if they were not able to enroll this year. 

Lewis told the board that typically, the district would just add an additional full-time teacher wherever needed and would not need the board’s approval to do so. Since the Montessori program is new, staff wanted to get direction from the board. 

Cynde Frick, executive director of finance, said that for this year, the district could bridge the additional $97,500 for one additional Montessori teacher and teaching assistant, plus $24,000 for classroom supplies, furniture and flooring. Funds will come from unfilled positions. Next year, it would need to be built into the regular budget. 

Once staff confirmed that the additional cost would not have to come from the funds that the school board has set aside to provide wage increases, the board agreed to add another classroom — though board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood noted that she agreed “with trepidation.” 

Multi-grade classrooms

It was still not entirely clear after Monday’s budget update exactly which teaching positions would be cut and how it would impact course options that secondary students have. However, Leah Wisdom, director of instruction and professional development, said the majority of the position reductions were at the elementary level. 

The biggest reason for that is because the district will be using multi-grade classrooms next year. 

Wisdom said there is a plan in place to support teachers. 

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A subcommittee of art, music and P.E. teachers has recently been implemented to address concerns about how a multi-grade model will work in those special classes. Another subcommittee includes a couple of learning coaches and some teachers who will have multi-grade classrooms next year. They’re trying to get ahead of challenges and share resources ahead of August, Wisdom said. 

“What they really identified was the need for teachers that are teaching multi-grade to be able to use curriculum, standards and resources effectively across both grade levels,” Wisdom said.

There will be two dates for summer professional learning in which multi-grade teachers in the district will obtain resources and training and have time to plan their coursework together. They will then evaluate further needs at the end of the summer.

In addition, multi-grade teachers in the district will have opportunities to collaborate virtually and in person throughout the year. This will allow them time to debrief, share ideas and ask questions, Wisdom said.

Not every elementary school will have multi-grade classrooms because some are using federal funds to add sections and reduce class sizes, Wisdom said. And depending on how enrollment numbers and staffing decisions turn out, families might not be notified until August if their kids will be placed in multi-grade classrooms. 

Board member Kelly Jones raised concerns about that timeline. She said she knows staff will manage parent concerns well, but “that feels a little late in the game to let a parent know, particularly if their student — it just isn’t a good match for them. For them to be able to make changes, that’s awfully late.” 

Families of students can refer to the parent guide, which includes a QR code to scan for more in-depth information on the district website to learn more about multi-grade classrooms for their children. Lewis said he and the board will be more intentional about directing parents to that website in the future.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio 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.

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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