Lawrence school district will likely pay $65K for boundary analysis; school board postpones approval

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The Lawrence school district will likely pay $65,000 for a consultant’s boundary and enrollment analysis, and while some board members voiced concerns about the consultants, others defended the data they deliver.

A contract with RSP & Associates was part of the board’s consent agenda Monday. The board was asked to approve spending up to $100,000. Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood requested the item be pulled, and followed by discussion, the board ultimately decided not to vote on it.

Larry Englebrick, who served as chief operations officer but was announced on Monday as the new deputy superintendent, shared with the board a breakdown of an estimated $65,000 payment. It includes $21,000 for an enrollment analysis, $10,000 for a boundary analysis, $30,000 for six public meetings, and $4,000 for a survey through MetroQuest. Englebrick said setting the contract limit to $100,000 would allow wiggle room.

The district has worked with RSP for several years. The consultants’ analyses recently led to two elementary school closures, boundary assessments and more relating to budget decisions.

“One of the things we’ve learned the past three years is somehow, in the course of the work with RSP, we seem to be able to identify another key piece that we need to look at,” Englebrick said.

RSP was hired in August 2022 on a $120,000 contract to lead the district’s 2023-24 budget planning process. In May 2023, the board approved paying the firm an extra $27,500 for its work related to school closures. In October 2023, the board approved another contract for up to $80,000 for RSP to make five-year enrollment projections.

In 2022, board member Anne Costello was a member of the Futures Planning Committee, a group that helped form recommendations for 2022-23 budget cuts.

“I found them in their facilitation of meetings to be very patronizing and not very open to listen,” Costello said of RSP.

Board member Shannon Kimball said she trusts RSP’s accuracy and that the district doesn’t have the tools or number of staff to carry out that type of work.

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“I think it’s important to point out that they’ve been right about a lot of things, whether we like it or not,” Kimball said. “I just wanted to share that perspective, because I’ve seen us do it both ways in my time on the board, my evaluative judgment of that is, this is work that it is better to contract out to experts. We have gotten better results and better support from doing that.”

Cadue-Blackwood seconded Costello’s comments. 

“We’ve been working with them since 2017 — that doesn’t seem so much like a contract but more like a partnership,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “I’m siding here with my board colleague and just questioning why we are doing this every year. I did sit in those meetings with RSP, and yes, I can attest that they were condescending. And some questions that folks asked were never addressed or tabled.”

Board President Kelly Jones suggested a solution could be to have RSP present at committee meetings not to lead them but to share data, which she said has remained “fairly accurate” in her experience with the company.

Six public meetings — which the community is invited to attend — would cost $5,000 each, adding up to the $30,000 portion. Englebrick said meetings with the Boundary Advisory Committee and progress reports to the board are also included in that. 

Board member GR Gordon-Ross asked if the district hosting public input meetings could reduce the total expenditure. That might be possible, but there’d still be some cost for the data RSP would provide beforehand, Englebrick said.

Although RSP provided the district with five-year enrollment projections last year as part of budget planning, Englebrick said annually updated projections are necessary. Outgoing Superintendent Anthony Lewis agreed Lawrence’s housing climate and other factors call for updated data.

“When you have major housing development that we’re, in the city, projected to have, I would lean heavily on them to assist us with the enrollment projections,” Lewis said. “Now, I will say we are looking at ways to get to that point of self-sufficiency and self-sustainability, is the goal. But as we continue to pare down administration and merge some of their duties, we have to take that into consideration as well.”

The Boundary Advisory Committee will soon reconvene, this time to “focus in very strongly” on high school boundaries, Englebrick said. Elementary and middle school boundaries will also be analyzed. Public meetings are set to begin in August or the first week of September. 

Board members and Englebrick agreed to hold off on voting Monday, so the contract will be revisited at the board’s July 22 meeting.

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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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Kaw Valley Almanac for July 15-21, 2024

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