Post updated at 10:38 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14:
The Lawrence school district is considering a possible scenario for its budget plan that would include closing two elementary schools and one middle school.
During a meeting on Wednesday evening, the district’s Futures Planning Committee learned of the scenario — made with “administrative input” — which estimates savings between $7.15 million and $9.1 million.
“This is what we believe can be done,” Superintendent Anthony Lewis said of the scenario.
In order to achieve competitive wages for district staff, which is the committee’s biggest financial priority heading into the next school year and future years to come, the district’s goal is to make $9 million worth of cuts.
According to Cynde Frick, executive director of finance, repurposing essentially means the buildings would no longer be used for school classes but may be used for other district purposes; closing would mean the buildings would not be in use at all.
The proposed scenario did not name specific schools.
“Repurposing” these three schools would save the district approximately between $925,000 and $1.13 million, according to Wednesday’s presentation.
Savings from repurposed buildings will come from cuts to staff that help upkeep buildings, such as school principals, custodians, secretaries and other related staff, rather than teachers, who would be reallocated to other schools, Lewis confirmed during the meeting.
Other cuts would be made to staffing and school programs. The bulk of the multimillion dollars in savings in the scenario would come from increasing class size ratios at the middle and high school levels, estimated to save $3.25 to $5 million.
RSP & Associates — the outside consulting firm hired by the district for $120,000 to provide enrollment and facility analyses and projections during the budget process for next year — also revisited its enrollment projections in relation to facility usage during the meeting. The student projections were based upon where students reside.
The target capacity for buildings in the district is 85%; less than 75% “creates potential staffing inefficiencies and program utilization,” which ultimately lead to making cuts, according to RSP’s presentation.
Looking at the next five years, according to RSP’s projections, elementary schools that will be under 75% building utilization in 2027-28 include Cordley, Deerfield, Hillcrest, Pinckney, Schwegler and Woodlawn elementary schools. Secondary schools in the district that are projected to be below the desired capacity in the next five years include Liberty Memorial Central, Southwest and West middle schools, according to RSP’s projections.
The key now is sustainability — to find as much money as possible to fund staff pay increases as well as keep that funding going in the future, Frick said. Lawrence Education Association, the district’s certified teachers union, and PAL-CWA, the district’s classified staff union, have expressed the urgent need for competitive wages.
“All that the $9 million is is conversations with our board during last fiscal year between the certified group and the classified group in terms of where they would like to be,” Frick said. “For the classified group, there were some talks about $15 an hour, and the certified group was looking at a completely different matrix.”
If the Kansas Legislature follows the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in accordance with the Gannon ruling in the Kansas school finance case, the district could see an increase in funding for the 2023-24 year, Frick said. The district will not know the calculated increase until March or April, after the legislative session, though.
Futures Planning Committee members were split into groups of three to five to discuss the proposed scenario. They wrote their thoughts on pieces of paper, which were collected at the end of the meeting and will be revisited at the next meeting.
The meeting materials were not uploaded to the district’s website prior to the meeting or as of late Wednesday. Here’s a page of the packet that was provided to committee members:scenario1
In April 2021, the Lawrence school board voted to close Kennedy Elementary School to grades K-5 with little notice to families. In January, district staff advanced proposals that would have closed multiple elementary schools and one of the four middle schools. In February, school board members opted to take school closures off the table, but they did not rule out the possibility for future years, noting the district’s ongoing budget struggles.
The committee added an additional meeting to its schedule after RSP facilitators and committee members felt they needed more time to delve into issues. This would push back public input sessions, which are now scheduled for Jan. 17-18.
The committee is scheduled to meet next at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public.
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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.