Lawrence school board to consider budget that would raise property taxes, hear report on social media addiction

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Post updated at 5:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12:

The Lawrence school board on Monday will consider approving the district’s proposed maximum budget for the upcoming year, which would increase property taxes.

The proposed mill levy, or tax rate, would add approximately 1.16 mills to the district’s current mill levy. Last year’s budget decreased by about 1.1 mills from the previous year, but higher assessed valuations caused most property owners to pay more taxes anyway.

Under the proposed mill levy, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay about $1,410 in property taxes to the school district — about $64 more than last year. Assessed valuation is also increasing this year.

District administrators will present to the board a budget report that will include a review of the revenues — state aid, taxes and reimbursements — the district receives, as well as the district’s expenditures.

After discussion, administrators will ask the board to approve the proposed mill levies and budget authorities, and exceeding the revenue neutral rates for the 2023/24 fiscal year, according to the agenda item.

Here’s the full budget report from the meeting agenda:

20230814-USD-497-Budget-Presentation

The process to approve the 2023-24 budget will require the district to hold public hearings. Hearings will take place during the board meeting scheduled for the board’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 11 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. The hearing to exceed the revenue neutral rate is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. followed by the hearing to approve the 2023-24 budget.

Report on district approach to students’ social media usage

The school board on Monday will hear about potential legal action the district could take in response to research on social media addiction among students, as well as ways it can intervene on its own.

“The impact of social media addiction on schools negatively impacts the educational process by increasing the distractions, and increasing the need for resources to address behavioral issues,” the agenda item says.

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The board will be asked to approve an agreement between the district and three legal firms. No costs associated with the potential agreement were outlined in the agenda. 

Representatives with one of the firms — Overland Park-based Goza & Honnold — will present to the board Monday.

If approved, the legal team would investigate and possibly file lawsuits to recover damages the district has suffered as a result of social media companies “engaging in designing and promoting products to attract and addict children,” according to the agenda item. View the resolution attached to the agenda item on Boarddocs.

On the board’s consent agenda*:

* a list of items that are considered routine and generally approved in one motion without discussion, unless a board member or the superintendent asks to pull an item to consider separately:

• Contracts for special education services: The board will look to approve contracts for the upcoming school year with three special education services, including Stepping Stones, Epic Staffing Services and Supplemental Health Care.

As part of student Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Kansas State Department of Education requirements, the district must partner with contracted agencies to provide special education services to students with disabilities. “This position is extremely difficult to fill,” the agenda item states.

If approved, the Stepping Stones contract would cost the district up to $325,000; the Epic Staffing contract would cost up to $60,000; and the Supplemental Health Care contract would cost up to $650,000. That totals to slightly more than $1 million from the district’s special education fund.

• Memorandum of understanding with Bert Nash: Additionally, the board will look to approve an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Lawrence school district and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. The district in recent years has partnered with Bert Nash to support the WRAP Program, which stands for “Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities.”

“As noted in the MOU, all parties agree that the WRAP Therapists are mental health providers and an extension of the Bert Nash Service array to provide Behavioral Health Services to aid in a student’s overall health and functioning,” the agenda item says.

• Appointment of acting board clerk: A personnel matter is also included in the consent agenda. Since Board Clerk Alyse Donnell is scheduled to proceed on maternity leave in September, the board must appoint someone to serve in her place. The board on Monday will look to approve Janice Dunn as acting board clerk. 

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In other business:

• First Management tax breaks: The board will hear a request from First Management Inc. to provide an estimated $212,706 in property tax rebates for the company to renovate a downtown building into its corporate headquarters. Read more about that at this link.

• Amendments to board policy: Board members will look to approve amendments to the “Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers” section of their policy manual to reflect who can make complaints about course material.

The policy has been updated to permit “any student, or parent or legal guardian of a student currently enrolled in the district” to file a complaint about textbooks, media center or other instructional materials.” Previous language allowed any person to make a complaint. View the policy amendments attached to the agenda item on Boarddocs.

• Executive session: To conclude Monday’s meeting, the board will hold a 20-minute executive session, or closed-door meeting, with no action to follow. The board is set to meet with Superintendent Anthony Lewis and legal counsel Brad Finkeldei to discuss “potential litigation,” according to the agenda item.

The school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/@USD497, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing PublicComment@usd497.org. Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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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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