Lawrence school board to vote on budget with mill levy increase, consider solar energy proposal

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will vote on the district’s final 2023-24 budget, including expenditures and tax rates.

Two public hearings are scheduled for Monday’s meeting: one to exceed the revenue neutral rate, and the other on the district’s final budget for the 2023-24 school year. The board will then vote on exceeding the revenue neutral rate, the local option budget (LOB) and the proposed budget itself, which includes approximately $242.73 million in total expenditures.

The estimated tax rate of 52.229 mills, approved for publication on Aug. 14, would add approximately 1.16 mills to the district’s current mill levy. Last year, the maximum budget lowered the mill levy 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.

Pilot solar energy project

The school board will also consider entering into a $240,590 contract with Cromwell Solar for the installation of a solar energy system at Prairie Park Elementary School.

A member of the district’s former Futures Planning Committee introduced the idea to use solar energy as a way to save money and reduce emissions, and the district committed to investigate the potential.

Cromwell Solar provided the second most expensive proposal out of seven the district received, but the evaluation team reviewing the proposals ranked it highest, according to the agenda item.

If approved, the funds will be pulled from the district’s capital outlay budget. No presentation materials were attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs as of Sunday afternoon.

In other business:

• MOU on truancy: The school board will also consider approving a memorandum of understanding regarding the district’s tentative partnership on an anti-truancy project that aims to prevent students from being introduced to the criminal justice system for missing too much school. 

The board during its previous meeting had its first look at the agreement after hearing a report on action plans to address chronic absenteeism and truancy amongst students.

Project partners include the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, Kansas Department for Children and Families, Douglas County Criminal Justice Services – Youth Programs, Center for Supportive Communities and O’Connell Children’s Center. View the MOU attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs.

• Executive session: Monday’s meeting will conclude with a 20-minute executive session, or closed-door meeting, where the board and district administrators will discuss “matters that would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship under KOMA,” according to the meeting agenda.

The executive session includes Superintendent Anthony Lewis, Director of Human Resources and Safety Ron May, and attorney Ashley Rohleder-Webb, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, according to the agenda. If the board takes any action after the executive session, it will be public.

The school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11 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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