Community members joined Lawrence school district staff and students in a rally outside district offices before the school board meeting Monday to voice their concerns regarding a budget cut proposal that included possible closures of multiple schools.
The proposal included closing three elementary schools and repurposing a middle school, which would displace almost 700 students. It would also eliminate about 50 full-time positions within the middle and high schools.
Ultimately, the school board voted Monday to hold public hearings to consider closing Pinckney and Broken Arrow elementary schools, but not Woodlawn. They also voted to approve cuts of approximately 50 full-time staff members at the middle and high school levels, and to form a committee to come up with a plan to repurpose Liberty Memorial Central Middle School as a magnet school or themed school.
Members of the Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communication Workers of America (PAL-CWA), the district’s classified staff union, joined the rally to highlight their unlivable wages. According to a news release from Alicia Erickson, founding organizer of Save Our Schools 497, about 320 classified staff make between $9.70 to $14 per hour.
“We fully support classified staff receiving a living wage and teachers should be better compensated,” Erickson wrote in the release. “We know these objectives can be achieved through alternative means such as renewable energy, cutting positions and reducing salaries at district administration, and many other innovative avenues the district has not fully explored or considered.”
The district is hoping to save an estimated $4.5 to $4.8 million through closing schools and cutting staff. However, many community members say they are frustrated with a lack of data and transparency backing these decisions.
“We’re here to make the school board understand that we’ll need more information,” said Nicole Poracsky, a second and third grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary. “It’s a very blanketed statement when they give these data points or whatever they’re telling us. We need more information.”
Read more from the board meeting in this article.
Matty Tolbert, a third grader at Broken Arrow, copied “Save our schools” from a sign onto the sidewalk outside district offices.
“I would be sad [if Broken Arrow closes], because then I would lose all of my friends,” Tolbert said. “I don’t want any school to close, because then everyone would maybe lose their friends. And I don’t want that. I want people to be with their friends, and I want to have a school.”
Ari Johnson hopes to attend kindergarten at Woodlawn next year like his older brother.
“I guess we’ll take him where we need to … I don’t really want to leave public schools,” said Liz Bonny, Johnson’s mom, before the board took the vote not to hold a public hearing on closing Woodlawn. “But it’s gonna be really hard.”
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Broken Arrow third grader Kaliyah Stallings wrote “Save our schools” in chalk near the district offices’ doors.
Sash Bahar, a paraeducator who’s worked in the Lawrence Public Schools for about a year, held a sign reading “USD 497 pays poverty wages.” Bahar, a member of the PAL-CWA, makes $11/hour.
Sierra McCoy wore a paper sign that says “I am a food service worker. I’ve worked for Lawrence Public Schools for 6 years. I make $12/hour.”
Kids organized a march in front of the building, chanting “Save our schools” and holding homemade signs like this one.
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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.
You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.