Lawrence school board votes 4-3 against fees for students who qualify for reduced-price meals

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Lawrence school district families who qualify for reduced-price meals will have to budget for meal costs for the upcoming school year, but not for additional student fees, the school board decided during its meeting Monday.

Student instructional fees (formerly known as the books, materials and technology fee) have increased by $3, costing $100 for grades K-5 and virtual K-12, and $150 for grades 6-12. There is also a $15 transportation fee for field trips, and additional fees come with a student’s participation in extra activities.

The proposal staff provided ahead of Monday’s meeting included charging students who qualify for reduced-price meals — who have not been charged student fees in the past — but maintaining no charge for students with free meals. Under the proposal, students with reduced-price meals would have to pay 30% of the full-price fee amounts, which would be $30 for grades K-5 and virtual K-12 and $45 for grades 6-12.

Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood pushed back on the idea of adding additional charges onto families who are already struggling financially.

“I’ve been there. My husband and I were both college students and we both received free and reduced lunches and then when he got a job, he barely made … we went above the poverty line, and we moved in with his parents, and even then we barely made it by,” Cadue-Blackwood said during Monday’s meeting. “So I will not be approving this.”

After discussion around both the district’s need for student fee funds to be used toward curriculum and instructional materials and equity concerns, board member Kelly Jones moved to approve the fee increase with the exception of the new fees for students who qualify for reduced-price lunches.

“For me, I continue to have a lot of concerns about moving from no cost to even $30,” Jones had said.

Cadue-Blackwood, Jones, Andrew Nussbaum and Paula Smith voted in favor. Shannon Kimball, Erica Hill and Kay Emerson voted against the motion.

Students who pay full prices for lunches will also be charged device fees, which have not been required for the district-issued iPads and Macbooks in prior years. Elementary and middle school students will pay $15 in device fees, and high school students will pay $25, with no added charges for damages.

Altogether, for students who pay full prices for lunches, the required elementary fees would be $130; middle school, $180; and high school, $190 per year. Students who qualify for reduced-price or free meals are exempt from the fees.

Kimball said no budget cuts would need to be made as a result of this decision.

Cynde Frick, executive director of finance, said families may fill out a hardship waiver once per school year.

Meal prices

Following the federal decision to discontinue universal free meals for students, families who do not qualify for free meals will be required to pay for the next school year.

None of the student meal prices are increasing over the prices approved for the 2020-2021 school year; however, the cost of lunches for adults will increase by 90 cents, and breakfasts by 10 cents.

Lunches will cost $2.80 for elementary students, $3 for middle school students, $3.05 for high school students, 40 cents for students with reduced-price meals, and $4.65 for adults.

Breakfasts will cost $1.80 for elementary students, $1.90 for middle school students, $1.95 for high school students, 30 cents for students with reduced-price meals, and $2.55 for adults.

Families eligible for free or reduced-price meals are required to apply in order to receive those waivers. The district said applications will be made available later this week. Families who qualify for Medicaid are now directly certified to receive free or reduced-price meals.

New board leadership

Board members selected their new president and vice president for the 2022-2023 academic year, as is done annually. Kimball, who has held a leadership position for five out of her 11 years on the board, will assume the role of board president, replacing former president Hill.

Jones shared positive sentiments about Kimball during her nomination.

“Shannon is an expert on board governance. She essentially wrote the board manual, as an example, and when I’m asked technical questions by staff or patrons, I direct people to her or I check with her before responding. She has been a mentor to me for the past five years. I sincerely admire her dedication, compassion for students, educators, and administrators,” Jones said.

The new process for selecting the vice president includes board members nominating themselves or being nominated by a fellow board member, having the chance to give a statement at the meeting, and then all board members voting for their choice on a paper ballot. The vice president must have the majority vote (four votes) to be appointed.

Smith, who has been a board member since 2020, was voted in 4-3 as the new board vice president, taking Kimball’s place. Emerson had also nominated herself as vice president. The candidates voted for themselves, and Hill, Jones and Kimball voted for Smith; Nussbaum and Cadue-Blackwood voted for Emerson.

In other business:

• The board approved its Board Governance and Operations Manual, which the board policy committee reviews annually and suggests adjustments to make. This means changes requested at the June 27 board meeting are now applied, except for language around some advisory groups, such as the Parents of Color (or People of Color) Advisory Team and other parent or community groups. The policy committee will review those changes and bring them back to board at a later date. The policy committee meets next on Thursday, July 14.

Some changes being implemented in the manual include designating the past president of the board; board members being required to notify the district when they receive inquiries from media; policy revised to say board members do not have to respond to communications from the public “that contain vulgar language, or are of a harassing, threatening, or discriminatory nature”; public commentary rules during board meetings tightened; and language within the roles of board and district advisory committees, including the District Site Council section being almost completely redrafted to better align its purpose with Kansas State Department of Education guidelines, Kimball said.

The revised board manual is available at this link.

• The board approved the district’s full 2022-2023 organizational chart, which is available at this link.

• The board designated Brad Finkeldei of Stevens & Brand LLP as legal counsel. Finkeldei is also a Lawrence City Commissioner.

The school board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 26.

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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.

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