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Lawrence school board to start discussing next year’s budget sooner than usual

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Lawrence school board members on Monday will begin their discussion of the district’s next budget earlier than usual in the cycle.

The board will gather in a work session at 5:15 p.m. on Monday to begin conversing about the budget for next school year. According to the agenda, the board will review district priorities in alignment with the district strategic plan and discuss steps toward meeting those priorities “while maintaining a fiscally healthy school district.”

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In the most recent budgeting process, the district began in January discussing a plan that would’ve closed and consolidated multiple district schools effective in the upcoming school year to help patch a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

The tight timeline raised concerns for many district families and local activists. Ultimately, board members opted to take closures off the table for the 2022-23 school year, but some said they were not opposed to talking about closing schools in the future.

In addition, members of the Lawrence Education Association (LEA), the district’s union representing certified teachers, recently urged the board to start the budgeting process — including negotiating teacher salaries — much earlier to allow more time to weigh options. At a negotiations meeting on June 13 in which teacher salaries for this school year were set at a 1.8% increase, LEA Treasurer Megan Epperson said teacher salaries tend to be neglected until the last minute. 

Even though LEA began discussing salary increases in September 2021 and gave their first official ask in December 2021, Epperson said at that meeting, the board did not give its final offer until June. Shannon Kimball, now board president, at that meeting agreed that the board could improve on its timeliness and made a commitment to doing so.

Filling a board vacancy

In their regular meeting starting at 6 p.m., board members will consider a selection process to fill board member Andrew Nussbaum’s position following his resignation. Nussbaum is moving out of state. His term was set to expire in January 2026.

The process proposed in the meeting agenda would call for interested candidates to submit applications to the board by Aug. 15. Board members would review applications, discuss them at the Aug. 22 meeting, and hold a special meeting on Aug. 29 to interview candidates and appoint one to serve on the board until Jan. 8, 2024.

The remaining two years of the term will be filled following the November 2023 general election. Four board positions with four-year terms were already set to appear on the November 2023 general election ballot. With the additional vacancy, a fifth candidate will be elected to a two-year term.

In other business:

The board will also hear a report on the Free State High School Outdoor Athletic Facility as well as a report on student performance in the Kansas Assessment Program for English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science. The reports were not included in the agenda materials as of Sunday afternoon.

A closed-door executive session to discuss employer-employee contract negotiations will conclude the meeting.

The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the regular session at 6 p.m. Monday, July 25 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.

To give public comment virtually during the board meeting, email PublicComment@usd497.org by 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting to sign up to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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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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