Lawrence school board to consider budget cuts and school closures at special meeting

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The Lawrence school board will meet Tuesday to discuss a list of proposed budget cuts, including potentially closing three schools that have not yet been publicly named and increasing staffing ratios at middle and high schools.

The goal of Tuesday’s meeting is for board members to hear the recommended scenario, ask questions and have time to consider aspects of their decisions before their final vote, which will be Monday, Feb. 27, according to meeting agenda materials.

Tuesday’s meeting is open to the public, but there will be no public comment allowed.

The largest potential cut, estimated to save between $3.25 million and $5 million, would be to increase high school staffing ratios to 30 students, and middle schools’ to 28 students.

Two other cost-saving suggestions are estimated to potentially save more than $1 million each, but they would need to be negotiated with the teachers union, the Lawrence Education Association. One is to cut middle school teachers’ second plan time. That would save an estimated $1.3 million, according to the agenda.

The other, which would save an estimated $1.26 million, is for the district to stop its contributions to employees’ 403(b) retirement accounts. That cut would have a minimal impact to students, according to the agenda materials, but it could worsen the district’s issues with staff recruitment and retention.

The proposal includes closing two elementary schools and “repurposing” one middle school. That is estimated to save the district between $925,000 and $1.1 million.

District staff members have previously said that “repurposing” essentially means the building would no longer be used for school classes but may be used for other district purposes. During a meeting last week, Larry Englebrick, interim chief operations officer, said there have been introductory discussions about repurposing Liberty Memorial Central Middle School into a fine arts magnet school, but no decision has been made.

The district has not specifically announced which elementary schools would be closed, but assessments shared last week indicated that Woodlawn and New York were the lowest-scoring buildings.

Another proposed cut, estimated to save $700,000, is for the district to go to four-day weeks for students and five-day weeks for staff. The school board approved a 2023-24 school year calendar last week with five-day student weeks, but it was unclear whether the four-day week proposal would still be considered for implementation next year.

The goals of the budget cuts are to improve staff wages, allocate funds for future cost increases and increase district cash balances.

The district hired consultant group RSP & Associates on a $120,000 contract to provide a five-year student enrollment projection, a development and housing analysis, a demographic profile of the district, and facility usage recommendations based on the data collected. The consultants worked with the Futures Planning Committee, which had its final meeting last week.

The spreadsheet of suggested cuts in Tuesday’s meeting agenda is labeled as the superintendent’s recommendation. The full PDF is below.

The agenda materials as of Monday morning did not include the results of an equity impact analysis that Futures Planning Committee members completed last week.

There will be no public comment allowed Tuesday; however, board members will hear public comment during their next regular meeting, set for Monday, Feb. 27, when they are expected to make final decisions on the cuts. School board President Shannon Kimball said community members can share comments with the board via email, also.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 21) at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Board meetings are livestreamed on the district’s YouTube page. See the full meeting agenda at this link.


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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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