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Lawrence school board approves maximum budget, hears update on future planning committee

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The Lawrence school board on Monday approved the district’s maximum budget for the 2022-23 academic year, including up to $231.69 million in total expenditures.

The district’s budget lowers the mill levy by about 1.1 mills — but because assessed valuations substantially rose this year, most property owners as a result will still see tax increases.

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The board needed to pass three resolutions to approve the budget: the revenue neutral rate, the local option budget and the budget based on the district’s needs and state assessments. The local option percentage on Monday was approved in the maximum amount of 33% of tax dollars.

“I appreciate that our community has supported the district, and the 33% local option budget — we need those funds to operate effectively and serve our students,” Board President Shannon Kimball said.

According to a presentation from Cynde Frick, the district’s executive director of finance, the mill levy of 51.776 means that the owners of a home valued at $250,000 will pay about $1,346 in taxes to the district.

Leading up to this final budget approval, the district, tasked with cutting $6.4 million from its budget, made substantial changes. They included cuts to staff positions, student activities and programs, and more. Though none came to fruition for the 2022-23 year, school building closures were on the table with the budget crisis in consideration as well.

The district also came to agreements on teacher and staff contracts, in which salary increases did not meet either district union’s request, for the upcoming year. Read more budget coverage at this link.

In other business:

• Consultant contract update: The district on Aug. 8 hired RSP & Associates, an outside consulting firm based in Overland Park, to produce school boundaries, community development and a housing analysis as well as facility recommendations and a district demographic profile. This is set to be delivered to the district by February 2023.

As part of RSP’s plan, the district is working on creating a Future Planning Committee, in which students, parents, guardians, faculty, staff and community members are meant to share their input in meetings throughout the consulting process. 

Out of 70, district administration chose 36 applicants to move forward. Four spots have also been saved, for a total of 40 people to serve on the committee. So far, the committee includes 16 parents or guardians, two students, six community members, eight district staff members, two certified staff members and two district administrators. 

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Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the additional four seats were reserved for now “to ensure that we have a truly diverse committee that represents the district and the community.”

He also clarified that although the committee won’t take public comment, meetings are open for the public to observe. Lewis added that district administration as well as representatives from both district unions, LEA and PAL-CWA, will be in attendance at meetings to provide feedback.

A presentation during Monday’s meeting in which Lewis gave an update on the committee, including its “objective,” states that the committee will “Analyze the data to develop a prioritized recommendation based on the values of the community of how to best use our limited resources to achieve the mission and vision of Lawrence Public Schools.”

There was also a breakdown of applicant demographics provided. 

Future-Planning-Committee-demographics

Board member Kay Emerson said she felt the presentation was “relatively vague.”

Board member GR Gordon-Ross recalled his time on a district committee around 10 years ago. He said Monday’s presentation provided more direction and specificity as opposed to then, but board member Kelly Jones responded that she thought the new committee’s objective wasn’t made clear in the presentation.

“I appreciate that feedback, but when I read that, I don’t know what they’re doing. I am not entirely clear on what this committee is charged with when I read that … I wanna be really specific with the charge. I think it’s an important component of making sure that we have buy-in from the community about what the committee’s doing,” Jones said.

The district will let committee members know they were selected on Tuesday. The first Future Planning Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. 

• Consent agenda items: The board on Monday voted unanimously to approve an $85,000 contract for architectural consulting services to create a facility master plan in alignment with RSP’s work.

The board also voted to continue an agreement with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), intended to help increase students of color in Advanced Placement courses, for the third consecutive year. The $48,800 partnership will be paid for with the district’s Title IV grant funds.

Additionally, the board approved a new $30,000 contract with nonprofit organization STEM GRO, to be paid for with ESSER III funds, or federal COVID-19 relief funds.

• New board member: Gordon-Ross, the new board member selected on Aug. 30 to fill a vacant seat, on Monday was officially sworn in by Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew. Gordon-Ross will serve on the board until January 2024. In his application, he committed to running for the seat in the next election.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

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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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