The Lawrence school district’s Futures Planning Committee on Wednesday in a preliminary vote advanced a budget scenario suggesting a four-day school week, closing two elementary schools and a middle school, and cutting a district administration position.
The committee members, divided into small groups, reevaluated items in the current budget scenario, offering their own suggested changes to budget cuts in preparation for upcoming public input sessions. Each committee member was allowed to vote for two out of the seven groups’ scenarios.
The scenario that won, receiving 20 votes, also includes utilizing renewable solar power — which would not save costs but would reduce emissions — and cutting two electives at each high school instead of cutting student programs. Altogether, the group’s proposed cuts would save the district an estimated $7.6 million to $9.6 million. The four-day school weeks would save an estimated $700,000.
The district’s proposed budget scenario, involving school closures, divides into three “buckets” of cuts that are estimated to lead the district to between $7.15 million and $9.1 million in savings.
Bucket 1 includes increasing secondary class size ratios – middle schools to 28 students in each classroom and high schools to 30 students in each classroom; eliminating middle school second plan time; reducing student support staff; reducing classified staff positions; and reallocating district payment to 403(b). Bucket 2 includes reducing athletics, activities, and curriculum and instruction.
Bucket 3 includes closing two elementary schools and one middle school. Closing three schools is estimated to save between $925,000 and $1.1 million out of the total savings. No specific buildings have been pinpointed for possible closures.
During Wednesday’s meeting, committee members broke into small groups of three to five at their tables and were tasked with moving budget items around on an activity sheet. They could remove items from the current budget scenario and propose filling it with different items from a pool of recommendations they submitted at the last meeting.
Potential reductions with larger savings they could choose from included cuts to district administration positions and other district staff positions, reductions to early childhood services, increasing class sizes, revising the staff leave policy, reducing the number of elective classes offered, and repurposing, or closing, another school.
For example, the average district cost per administrative position, excluding the superintendent, is currently $127,662, according to the activity sheet. Therefore, cutting an administrative position would result in an estimate of $127,662 in savings.
After approximately 20 minutes of racking their brains in group discussions, a representative from each small group shared out to the entire committee what they came up with. Many groups had similar thoughts, and most agreed to entirely throw out Bucket 2 — consisting of $58,000 in total cuts to student programs and curriculum. Most also agreed that “repurposing,” meaning closing a school to K-12 education and utilizing it for other purposes, were necessary in some capacity.
By the end of the meeting, each committee member voted on which group’s scenario they felt was the strongest. The activity was meant to create a cohesive plan to present to community members at the public input meetings, though it won’t be set in stone quite yet.
“This is not the end all scenario – adjustments can be made in future meetings,” the presentation packet for Wednesday’s meeting stated. “The goal of this activity is to get to a point where we support the information going forward to the public.”
The public will hear this updated scenario and have the chance to interact with district administrators, RSP & Associates facilitators and Futures Planning Committee members during two public input sessions.
For the first 30 minutes of each session, RSP will present on the Futures Planning Committee process, financial priorities and additional progress as well as discuss the budget scenario being considered. During the remaining one hour of the session, attendees will be encouraged to visit stations and talk with committee members and district staff. Large posters with information will be set up at each station, and committee members will record public comments on sticky notes.
After some committee members asked for clarification on their roles during the public input meetings, Ginna Wallace, RSP planner, assured them they are not being asked to advocate for the proposed scenario; rather, they will share the facts and listen to feedback.
“We’re explaining the facts,” Wallace said. “We’re not swaying or convincing. We’re listening to their input and explaining how we got here to this point.”
Superintendent Anthony Lewis said during the meeting the district is looking into offering free childcare during the sessions, possibly through Boys and Girls Club, for parents who would like to attend.
The public input sessions are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Free State High School and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18 at Lawrence High School. Community members are invited to attend and provide feedback at one or both.
The Futures Planning Committee will then reconvene at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.
Facility Conditions Assessment
ACI Boland Architects is conducting a facility conditions assessment to determine the effectiveness of district buildings. This is part of RSP’s process in providing recommendations for facility usage to the district. Doug Loveland, ACI learn studio principal, shared with the committee during Wednesday’s meeting about criteria used to give buildings a “composite score.”
Loveland explained ACI bases scores on three criteria: the condition of the facility, the count of classrooms, and the size, or the space in classrooms.
Facilities that receive a score of 10 — deemed to be most efficient — operate with a “four-section” count model, meaning there are four classrooms per grade level in each building, and operate at 85% capacity, for example.
Though condition, count and size are the three criteria ACI most value, they’re not the only ones school districts use to evaluate their buildings. Loveland asked committee members to report which criteria they would like to see focused on during the assessments.
The results indicated the committee had a strong preference to incorporate an equity lens and that the group’s ideals were mostly cohesive, which is positive, Loveland said at the end of the meeting after crunching numbers.
Loveland said ACI will take this feedback into consideration as the team continues their assessments.
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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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