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Lawrence school district proposal would add fees for students who receive reduced-price lunches

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Lawrence school district staff members on Monday presented a revised plan for student fees that would spread costs to students who qualify for reduced-price lunches, but would continue to exempt students who qualify for free lunches. 

Currently, the basic student fees for books, materials and technology are $97 per year for grades K-5 and $147 for grades 6-12. There’s also a $15 fee for transportation for field trips. Additional fees come with a student’s participation in extra activities. But students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches do not pay any fees. 

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Under the revised fee proposal, students who receive reduced-price lunches — about 7-8% of the student population, according to Executive Director of Finance Cynde Frick — would pay half the fee amounts. So the fee structure would be $100 or $50 for grades K-5, and $150 or $75 for grades 6-12. Those amounts do not include the $15 field trip transportation fees. 

Frick estimated that the change would increase revenue by about $75,000. 

The district has also been considering adding a student device fee. There currently are no fees for the iPads younger students use or the Macbooks the highschoolers use.

At the school board’s June 13 meeting, Zach Conrad, outgoing director of data and technology, shared a plan that would have added device fees for all students, regardless of their family’s income level. The revised plan exempts students who receive free lunches from the device fees. 

Instead, elementary and middle school students would pay $15 or $10 for device fees, and high school students would pay $25 or $15 fees, depending on whether they pay full or reduced prices for lunches. 

Board member Kelly Jones asked about the income eligibility for reduced-price lunches, but Frick said she did not have the specifics on that.

“I know the ballpark of that number — it’s very low,” Jones said. “If you have multiple children, that’s a steep increase from last year to this year for those families. And so for me, that’s concerning.” 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Lawrence school board President Erica Hill, Vice President Shannon Kimball, and member Carole Cadue-Blackwood

Board President Erica Hill called for an equity analysis, which staff did not consider in constructing the proposal, to see the impact these fees will have on families. 

Conrad and Frick said the timing may not allow for an in-depth analysis because the 2022-2023 fees were originally scheduled to be included on the July 11 organizational meeting’s consent agenda. The board discussed pulling it from the consent agenda and making it a regular board topic to give more time for equity tools to be used.

The board on Monday also approved a tentative agreement with the classified staff union, raising the base salary for those employees from $9.43 to $9.70 per hour. 

The agreement also adds language to ensure that staff members have at least one short break during the day, “provided student needs are always covered and job responsibilities are completed in a timely manner.”

In the months leading up to the decision, PAL-CWA (Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communications Workers of America), the labor union for classified staff in the district, had been urging the district to pay all members at least $15 per hour. Hannah Allison-Natale, interim PAL-CWA president, said last month that about 300 employees currently earn between $11 and $13 an hour.

The item was on the board’s consent agenda, meaning it was passed without discussion along with several other items. 

However, Jones, who serves on the negotiations committee, said during board commentary that she wanted to “extend my gratitude to PAL-CWA for the way they approached negotiations this year and the admiration I have for the way that they continue to fight for fair wages for their membership.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Lawrence school board member Kelly Jones speaks during the board’s meeting on June 27, 2022. Listening at left is board member Kay Emerson.

“I want to acknowledge that we have a way to go and that we have committed as a board and a district to look at the classified matrix as an example with some contracted help and a committee of both representatives from PAL-CWA and district leadership,” Jones said. 

The consent agenda also included the district’s change of athletic brand from Adidas to Nike, which leaves Jock’s Nitch in Lawrence without its biggest client. New uniforms will be phased in gradually.

Board policy manual changes

Every year, the board must review its manual on governance and operating procedures and discuss modifications. During a work session on Monday, board Vice President Shannon Kimball highlighted notable sections of the policy committee’s proposed changes to the manual.

With one change, the board will not be required to respond to communications from the public, including emails, mail, etc., “that contain vulgar language, or are of a harassing, threatening, or discriminatory nature.” During Monday’s meeting, the board discussed possibly adding language about anonymous mail as well.

Another change would tighten the language about public commentary at the board’s meetings. 

Kimball noted that members of the public who speak at meetings are asked not to discuss complaints about specific students or staff members. However, a proposed change would state that public comment “should not be used as a way to circumvent our district and board policy around complaints,” she said. 

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“Unfortunately, I think I’ve seen in my years of board service that happen more and more and more — people just are saying, ‘Well, I don’t want to be bothered’ or ‘I don’t understand how to’ or ‘I’m going to go straight to the board with’ whatever the complaint is. And that is actually a violation of our board policy,” she said.

“As a board, we need to be asking our staff and community to follow that policy and enforce that policy,” Kimball said. 

Jones said she agreed that complaints about personnel or specific students should not be allowed during public comment, but that she is concerned that the public may feel the board is silencing them.

“It reads as though you cannot come to the board and complain about a practice or procedure that’s directly impacting you or the community,” Jones said. “And it would be a lot to ask that a public commenter understand the procedures and processes that are in (the specific section of policy). And I’m a little bit concerned that you might be putting the (board) president in the position to cut people off in a manner that might be inhibiting access to the board.”

Kimball said the policy committee could revisit that language. Board members will consider the proposed changes again at their July 11 meeting. 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Superintendent Anthony Lewis and Lawrence school board President Erica Hill listen during the June 27, 2022 school board meeting.

In other business, Superintendent Anthony Lewis recognized board President Erica Hill, whose last meeting in that role was Monday. As tradition to honor the board president’s service and recognize student accomplishments, Lewis presented Hill with artwork by Free State senior Emma Liu. 

“I am proud to have been given the opportunity to serve as your board president for the last year, and it has been a very rewarding experience,” Hill said.

“… Being board president is not really a destination that I ever imagined in my journey. However, I am very grateful that my journey has taken me to this place, and it has truly been an honor and privilege to serve in this role.”

The school board will next meet on July 11 for an organizational meeting. 

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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 or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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