Lawrence school board to hear budget update with data on declining enrollment, ideas to cut costs

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As enrollment continues to decline, the Lawrence school district is considering ways to cut costs, such as hiring employees rather than outside contractors and using solar energy, according to a budget update the school board will receive Monday.

The update includes data from the district’s annual enrollment headcount, taken every Sept. 20. The district counted 9,820 students enrolled for the 2023-24 year, down 135 from the 9,955 total for 2022-23, according to the presentation.

Enrollment is projected to continue decreasing each year through 2027-28. State funding to schools is on a per-pupil basis, so even as the amount of funding per student increases, the increase could be offset by continuing enrollment declines.

This year, districts get base state aid of $5,088 per student; that is projected to increase to $5,381 for the 2024-25 year — almost 6% — according to the agenda item.

A chart shows the Lawrence school district’s headcount enrollment on Sept. 20 for years 2017-18 through 2023-24. (Via school board meeting agenda for March 25, 2024)

The district’s funding depends in part on decisions of the Kansas Legislature, which is still in session.

A timeline in Monday’s presentation shows that the district expects legislators to decide per-pupil state funding for the 2024-25 year in April or May.

A chart shows the K-12 base state aid per pupil the Lawrence school district has received or would receive. (Via school board meeting agenda for March 25, 2024)

The district could see an increase in special education funding from the state, according to the report. Administrators, board members and advocates statewide have called for the Legislature to fully fund special education.

ESSER funds — federal COVID-19 relief dollars — will be spent by September, according to the report. The district has used those funds in numerous ways over the past few years, including summer school for some students, staff retention payments, pay increases for substitute teachers, platforms to conduct staff surveys, CharacterStrong social-emotional curriculum and much more.

The district is considering future cost-saving measures, such as solar energy usage — as piloted at Prairie Park Elementary School — to reduce energy costs, according to the report. Converting to LED from fluorescent lighting in buildings could also save energy costs.

The district could also sell some real property to reduce property insurance costs, according to the presentation.

The district could also consider incentives to hire speech language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, plumbers, carpenters and other professionals as district employees rather than filling those positions through contractors, according to the agenda item.

The school board made numerous budget cuts last spring — including closing Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools and cutting 50 teaching positions — in order to pay for staff raises and increase the budget of the district’s contingency reserve fund. Data in Monday’s presentation shows that fund’s balance increased by more than $1.5 million, to $2.64 million from $1.12 million, as of June 30, 2023. Administrators are recommending the board add $4.88 million more to the contingency fund.

View the report for Monday attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs.

In other business:

• LMCMS redesign update: The board on Monday will also receive an update on Liberty Memorial Central Middle School’s transition to a STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — school next year.

No presentation materials were included on the agenda item on BoardDocs as of Sunday afternoon.

• Executive sessions: Monday’s meeting will be bookended by executive sessions, or closed-door meetings.

The first, near the beginning of the meeting, will be to discuss “potential litigation for matters which would be deemed privileged in the attorney‐client relationship under KOMA.”

Another at the end of the meeting, set for 30 minutes, will include Superintendent Anthony Lewis and administrators Cynde Frick, Megan Epperson, Kristen Ryan, Larry Englebrick and Kevin Harrell to discuss with the board matters of employee contract negotiations, according to the agenda. The second is set for 20 minutes for Lewis to discuss with the board personnel matters of nonelected personnel.

No action is set to follow any of the three executive sessions, according to the agenda.

The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday, March 25 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel,, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs, via

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

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— Reporter Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.

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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