Where, specifically, in the district's budget would you look first to make cuts to offset anticipated declines in state funding? Where would be the last?
The first thing i would do is find out exactly how much of a decrease in funding is going to be required as a percentage. Then each department would be asked to submit a budget that reflected that percentage decrease. Each department means Admin, Maintenance, and every Principal (Principal budgets would have the initial of the PTO President). I would encourage the Principals to coordinate their submittals with other Principals to encourage joint utilization or efforts. The Principals would not have the option of throwing their decision over the fence and saying that they recommend an action that had to be taken by another school, unless they had the other school's initials on the action, along with the PTO President.
The future of children is at stake when we address budget cuts. The candidates, like the public, have too little information about the budget to make fully informed decisions. One of my first initiatives would be to
increase transparency and make the budget understandable to all taxpayers. I would also gather information from the community before making cuts to a program or before floating bonds. Funds have been put aside in the contingency fund and the special reserve fund so I would propose that we begin to spend that surplus down. I would also look toward administrative efficiency for savings, as well as a curriculum review that would allows us to look for efficiency but to do some in a way that maintains resources and optimizes opportunities for academic excellence.
Given that the district has had to make substantial cuts to the budget in recent years, there is no longer an obvious single starting point for making further cuts. If approved by the legislature, next year’s proposed base state aid per pupil of approximately $3780 would be less than the state aid our district received ten years ago (in 2000-2001, the district received base state aid of $3,820 per pupil). Last year, our district addressed a $4.6 million budget shortfall by making almost $3.2 million in program reductions, increasing class sizes, and laying off 30 teachers.
Next year the district faces at least another $3 million decrease in state aid. Because we have already made substantial cuts to programs, and because eighty to eighty-five percent of the District’s costs are salaries and benefits, further cuts are going to require very hard choices—do we increase class sizes again? Lay off thirty more teachers? Cut core instructional programs? I will review all areas of the budget and prioritize cuts by focusing on protecting those things that are most important to student learning and achievement in the classroom. I will also give serious consideration to the recommendations of the Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force.
Because having a high quality teacher in the classroom is one of the most important influences on student achievement, one of the last things I would consider to offset declining state funding is teacher pay.
Extracurricular activities, particularly those with low participation rates, including consolidating schools for those particular activities. Reducing classroom teachers if it would significantly increase class sizes, especially in elementary schools.
The dollar figure for the amount that has to be cut may not look that large compared to the size of the total budget, but when looking at how significant a percentage the current shortfall and the anticipated declines represent of the funds that we have local control over and can be considered for cuts, it is going to get more and more painful to absorb the losses.
While I currently do not support school closure or cuts to curricular programs as solutions to the district’s budget woes, it is certainly going to be incumbent on the board to at least discuss these areas as well as all other options. The full spectrum of non-restricted spending will be under scrutiny and a thoughtful, deliberative review of the district’s allocations will need to be performed. As we look at a continuing decline in funds and the formation of a longer-term vision for budget priorities, it will be necessary that the district solicit input from families, educators, and other members of the public in regard to what our local educational goals should be and what is best for the students.
The areas that would be hardest to convince me to make cuts in would be those that directly impact student success and curricular diversity. It is essential that students have as wide an array of opportunities for learning as possible if we want them to become well-rounded, thoughtful participants in society.
This is a difficult question to answer specifically given the very general budget information the district provides on its website. Based upon what I have learned in attending school board meetings the past 18 months, it is essential that all general and supplemental funds need to be as directed to instructional and instructional-support costs as possible. Additionally, balancing the budget should involve a look at both expenditure and revenue sides of the equation. Maximization of funds such as the textbook and special reserve funds need to be encouraged over the next couple of years to minimize damage from further budget reductions. In benchmarking our district against our peer districts, we appear to be less efficient in terms of "other costs" (such as transportation and food service) and school administration costs. We also appear to be high in regard to percentage spent on debt service. These ought to be examined first. Core instructional expenditures ought to be the last place to look for cuts, especially at K-3 where class size appears more critical to academic achievement. If we do not keep our foundation strong, the remainder of education is compromised.
The Lawrence School District has seen a significant decrease in state funding and is once again being forced to make additional budget cuts. This is a big challenge. Our top goal in addressing it should be to maintain the best quality education for our children over the long term. We need to identify what is essential to serving that goal: quality teachers, strong curriculum, and strong communities of learning. We may have to cut other items in order to preserve these things. Making specific cuts requires specific information about the budget and I hesitate to identify specifics without having comprehensive current financial information.
My skills and background as a planner and analyst, along with my strong commitment to public education, will help me to make these tough decisions. My decision-making process will start by evaluating what things are necessary to deliver quality education. In the military, we called this backward planning, and in education it is sometimes called backward design.
To do this well, we will have to think entrepreneurially about how we manage our limited resources. The budget process needs to be transparent and include a community based approach to addressing current and future financial challenges. We should have a budget advisory committee made up of members of our community who have financial expertise. This committee will assist the board and district administrators in budgetary issues. Several school districts across the state and nation make effective use of such committees. See http://www.bluevalleyk12.org/education/dept/dept.php?sectionid=119& to learn more about how the Blue Valley School District involves a community based budget advisory group in its financial decision-making processes.
Administrative costs often do not contribute directly to the quality of education in the classroom. While I believe in a well rounded education, extra-curricular activities can also carry heavy financial burdens. So I'd look first at administrative and extra-curricular program costs. Anything that affects the delivery of education in the classroom would be the last place I'd look. Many teachers already fund a lot for their students out of their own pockets because of inadequate student per classroom funding. School closings are a last resort.
Lawrence will face several additional years of financial shortage. We have already cut nearly $12M and are faced with cutting $3M for fiscal year 2012. My core belief will be to cut costs without harming student achievement. I would like to protect classroom instruction.
As last year, there can be increases in class size, which means for each increase to student/teacher ratio there is approximately $1 million gained. What that means is larger classes in elementary and fewer electives at the secondary level. Another option is closing a school. If Wakarusa Valley is closed about $400 thousand is gained. If two schools are closed that would be close to $1 million. The third option is to cut educational programs like counselors or nurses. Since last year cuts included administrators, learning coaches, paraeducators, janitors, etc. I would hate to cut more in this area.
Although none of the options are pleasant, I would first suggest closing one or two schools and increase the student ratio by one. The last place to make cuts would be to further cut nurses, counselors, and teachers that provide special services to our students.
What is the best way to "close the achievement gap" in schools?
I am greatly concerned that some groups of students in Lawrence schools are not learning as well as others. Test scores may not be the best way of measuring student learning, but test scores and graduation rates help us see who is falling behind. By these measures we need to do more to educate students of color, students with disabilities, students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and English Language Learners.
I believe that the school board and the district administration need to work together to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to improve the ways in which we teach and support these students. Studies have shown that the most effective measures to close the achievement gap are: 1) ensure that schools with a high proportions of low-SES and minority children have excellent teachers; 2) facilitate best teaching practices among these teachers; and 3) maintain appropriate class sizes in schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students in order to better concentrate teaching effort on these children. USD 497 should strive to implement these measures which have been shown to help close the achievement gap elsewhere.
In addition, we should draw upon some of the suggestions made in the KLN report, a study recently commissioned by the district, including 1) hiring more minority teachers who will serve as good role models for students, 2) implementing a common curriculum that builds learning across school levels and across the district, and which helps align the efforts of special education and ELL teachers, and 3) developing a well planned and focused strategy of professional development for teachers. All of these appear to be good goals, and I would strongly support pursuing them as strategies to help close the achievement gap.
Districts that have succeeded in narrowing or closing the achievement gap share certain traits: a willingness to acknowledge problems and actively seek solutions; a strategy for implementing district-wide consistency and rigor in instruction; adequate instructional supports and professional development; a reliance on data-driven decision making, and high expectations for all students.
Lawrence Public Schools has modeled these traits in our schools. By emphasizing these traits, providing quality early childhood learning opportunities, and ensuring we have high quality teachers in our classrooms, we will continue to make meaningful progress toward closing the achievement gap in our schools.
Educators in the classroom are most knowledgeable about the educational needs of their students. Models exist nationally for successful educational programs for K - 12. Classroom teachers and principals should be engaged in a consortia to identify strategies for improving our educational programs, including seeking ideas externally. Our Lawrence public schools are not in dire straits with educational quality so the project is not one of total remediation; it's one of improvement.
Closing the achievement gap will take engagement with the entire community. Full day kindergarten and maintaining early childhood educational opportunities are important parts of decreasing the achievement gap. I would also consider remedial programs and possibly offering after school tutoring sessions. These programs might be able to take advantage of some of the resources that KU could provide. Increasing parental involvement is also important to decreasing this gap. A fuller engagement in extracurricular activities will also help anchor some students to schools and help increase academic motivation.
Beyond these specific ideas, however, I would like to take a more comprehensive approach to issues related to the achievement gap, such as parental involvement and our dropout rate. Given that the school board have embraced the idea of a task force, I will advocate for the creation of a community task force to address the achievement gap, the dropout rate, and parental involvement. Such a task force, composed of committed and knowledgeable individuals, would work to identity the causes of the gap and dropping out, as well as barriers to parental involvement, and then recommend ways to address these issues.
In order to close the achievement gap, it will be necessary to continue the efforts that have already been started by the district’s Courageous Conversations initiative to identify the causes of achievement differences and work towards the modifications to our education system necessary to solve the issues raised by that process. We’ll also need to review existing research; solicit feedback from students, families, educators, and others; hold community forums; and continue to examine techniques that have been successful in other districts to see if makes sense to implement similar programs in our schools.
The achievement gap is not a singular issue, but rather has many faces with many dimensions and therefore the appropriate response to improve achievement is not one size fits all. This is one area where it becomes clear that public education is not just about delivering curriculum but is about creating a learning environment. Elements essential to addressing achievement gap issues include: 1) a well-trained teaching staff provided with sufficient professional development opportunities, 2) that is collaborative in education delivery, 3) along with supplemental educational support (which may range from Para educators to mental health professionals to collegial support through equity teams) and 4) enhanced parental involvement. The district is working hard in regard to these efforts.
One on one tutoring is needed to help students who are having trouble. This one on one can be done by teachers, para's or other students who are assisted by teachers.
If I knew that answer, I could be selling it to large city school systems, or at least have a lofty position in academia. Clearly, those schools with lower test scores need more support, both in school and out.
The Kansas Learning Network examined our District Improvement Plan and provided suggestions; we need to implement this Plan. We need to support Professional Development efforts using the Courageous Conversation model to examine teaching practices. Each school needs to provide the tiers of intervention so that all students are moving toward mastery of the curriculum.
What would you include in a proposed bond issue?
At a minimum, I would include provisions to address the facilities needs of our elementary schools. These needs include eliminating portable classrooms at all elementary schools; making all of our buildings ADA compliant, upgrading electrical and other systems to meet the needs of current technology, completing roofing repairs and replacements, improving lighting and indoor air quality, and providing all schools with equitable classroom, library, gymnasium, cafeteria, music, art, and other spaces necessary to deliver quality instruction.
A bond proposal should not be submitted until the district and our stakeholders agree upon an elementary school consolidation plan. If I were to dream, I would include building an addition to New York and Pinckney, and possibly two new schools to consolidate Hillcrest and Sunset Hill and consolidate Kennedy and Cordley. I would include in the bond proposal renovations and repairs needed at all the other elementary buildings.
A bond issue during this time of financial crisis, will have to be very focused to pass. Targeting its benefit to all segments of the school system, and community, should be part of that, showing a benefit to the greatest number. Obviously, if there are conditions in some schools involving health, i.e. asbestos, ADA compliance, they should have priority.
This year the school board moved in the direction of best practice involving community participation in shaping such major decisions. The Elementary Facility Vision Task Force developed a clear plan to pursue an inclusive, participatory process of community stakeholders (community members, teachers, and administrators) to shape any future elementary building decisions and therefore any requested bond issue. Now that the school district has received a recommendation from the task force, it would be foolhardy for the board to disregard that clear recommendation for further public participation. How you do things does matter, and one of the responsibilities of the next board will be to build trust and confidence with the broader community to support any future bond issue. I believe that the community understands the need to remodel and renovate our long-neglected elementary schools, but I believe building support for any request for new facilities—at the elementary, middle or high school levels—will demand the nurturance of community buy-in to a long-term, sustainable vision. Any proposed bond issue must be weighed against the impact it poses on property taxes.
I wouldn't propose a bond issue until there was a long-term plan about how that money would be spent. Many of our schools do need renovations but we must assure that a plan to address those infrastructure upgrades is established in the most effective way. If consolidations occur, those need to be part of that long term plan. Since more community discussion needs to occur on consolidation and/or closing, the best a bond issue could do at this point would be to address infrastructure upgrades if and when a long-term plan is in place. It's counter-intuitive to the community voter to close schools to save money and then ask for money to consolidate schools - even if the funds come from different sources of budget allocations.
Any bond should be carefully developed in light of community concerns and feedback and must carefully weigh the property tax burden. With these caveats in mind, it is important to note that the task force recommends bonds for two different purposes. The first is for funds “sufficient to remedy the deficiencies and needs in our elementary facilities”. I support this, but would revise it to address the deficiencies and needs in all schools in the district, including high schools which will be impacted by the arrival of 9th graders.
The second recommendation of the task force is for bonds for the consolidation of schools. I cannot at this time support a bond issue to consolidate schools, for the following reasons. The task force recommendations lay out a number of factors to consider, such as construction costs and an academic plan for English language learners, but these factors are too vaguely described for taxpayers to know the cost and understand what they are getting for their dollars. Moreover, the recommended scenarios are not consistent with the criteria developed by the task force. As but one example, the task force concluded that the optimal range of school size is between 300 and 500 students, but one of the consolidated schools is projected to have well over 500 students, and would have a capacity for 600 students. The school closure and school consolidation plan would also impact other schools; Sunflower and Schwegler would experience a substantial increase in student numbers. Finally, I support the research cited by the task force which, in fact, shows higher achievement levels in schools with considerably fewer than 300-500 students.
If the community is brought together through an inclusive, open process to approve consolidations, I would support a fiscally responsible bond to fund those plans. Any bond issue should also be used to improve and renovate existing structures, unless an existing facility is determined not to meet the needs of the students and families it serves. Improvements to existing structures and enhancements to our educational programs should be the focus on any future bond issues.
I would include the renovation of those schools identified in the physical condition subcommittee report of the elementary school facilities vision task force as needing upgrades to lighting, air quality, and other deficiencies that may be having a negative impact on students and staff. The report cites research that indicates increased learning by as much as 20% in math and 26% in reading when comparing schools that have large amount of daylight to those that do not. If we can achieve similar results by upgrading environments in Lawrence schools, we should consider making such modification part of a bond issue.
Resolving situations that contribute to any accelerating deterioration or can provide for long-term sustainability of facilities should also be considered. Any buildings that have areas that cannot be renovated in such a way as to provide for necessary sustainability of the facility would either need to have those areas replaced or the school may need to be considered for total replacement or consolidation with another school depending on the scope of the needs and the economic conditions at the time of the bond issue.
As the school system has excess capacity at this time, the requirement for a bond issue is questionable. With the currently existing facility funding, the feasibility of using those funds should be the first priority. I noted the recent use of a renovation project to more appropriately use high school space as an example of that type of effort. In addition, the use of "student Labor" has multiple side benefits. It saves money, but even more importantly it gives our students a chance to contribute and prove their capabilities. In addition, there are families in the district who could use a couple of extra dollars if we reduce their property tax when current bonds are paid off.
How would you increase public participation in district decision making?
This is a core issue of my candidacy as the board will be making difficult decisions and needs to be effective in nurturing community buy-in. Habit five in the Five Habits of High-Impact School Boards is to “reach out externally and internally.” Participation begins with communication and the district needs to have information shared with the community and its teachers in a clear and accessible manner. The board needs to engage in a participatory process for shaping a long-term vision of where the district ought to be in five/ten years. This would involve adopting best practices for participatory planning including listening sessions, workshops, and public meetings in an iterative, year-long process. People need multiple opportunities to share their insights; not just once. I would like the board to receive greater direct input from teachers as they hold the expertise and grounded knowledge desperately needed to inform education decisions. Lastly, Lawrence has an amazing array of talented community members and the district needs to leverage that talent pool in ways such as creating a Budget Advisory Committee as neighboring districts have.
A lot of things have been tried, such as PTO's and School Board Meetings. A bi-monthly district PTO President's meeting might have some merit. The different PTO's could tell about things they are doing or tell about a problem they are having and see it any of the other parents can offer suggestions.
The elementary school facilities vision task force is a great example of how the school board can provide for more community involvement in the decision-making process. Similar groups could be convened when situations necessitate substantial input to ensure that the diversity of public opinion is reflect in any plans created that will effect the entire community.
Other mechanisms that can assist the board and district in engaging the public could include active solicitation of feedback via electronic forums, social media, town hall meetings, and meetings conducted at the various schools in the district.
The school board and administration should utilize the task force model as we work with the community and the various building stakeholders to begin planning for consolidation. A positive consensus driven plan will allow the best ideas to become reality and provide the basis for a bond issue.
This year’s planning committees lead the way to deal with the issues and changes resulting from the reorganization into a K-5, middle school, and high school grade configuration. There were parents, teachers, and administrators working together on these teams.
Both of those examples are ways I and the board can foster an increase in public participation involved in district decision making. As each issue is identified, I will suggest ways to include the public in the board’s deliberations and decision making.
I'm pleased that the District formed a citizen task force on elementary schools. The next step is for the District to provide critical information to the Board and public in a more timely manner. For example, the Board and the Task Force have sometimes received the reports necessary for their key meetings only a day or two (in some cases only hours) in advance of the meeting. Some reports have not been made public until the time of the meeting. These delays make it difficult for the public to participate in an informed way. I would encourage the District to meet the professional standard set by the City of Lawrence and other area school districts: the agenda and reports for each meeting should be made public five days in advance of the meeting. I also favor inclusive citizen task forces to help plan any future consolidations. I realize that staff are stretched thin, but with a little advance planning these professional standards could easily be met. If we really want public participation, it's the right thing to do.
The school board should use the Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force as a model for engaging the community in important district decisions. Processes must be transparent. Information must be readily available to the public through improvements to the district’s website and other methods of communication with parents and the community. Finally, we must continue to inform parents and the community about existing opportunities for public participation in district decision making, such as school site councils and standing advisory committees.
School issues seem largely left to parents and education professionals. Involving business groups and community groups, including neighborhood associations, in such decisions as curriculum development and changes in physical plants impacting surrounding neighborhoods might help.
The school board members should see themselves as collaborators with the parents and the community, and decisions must be based on a genuine and thorough consideration of all views. I will work to find ways to actively solicit input from stakeholders. The creation of digital forums and on-line questionnaires would be one way where the public can make its voice heard. In such forums, teachers, parents, the community and even students can discuss ideas and offer opinions about issues facing the schools. I would also like to see the district communicate more directly to parents about important issues by using voice mail and e-mail. These mediums could be used to request input on important issues and let parents know how and where they can make their voices heard. We could also explore creating community advisory groups whose role is to seek, and convey, input from the community. With a little bit of creativity and some innovation, we can do better than merely allowing individuals to speak for three minutes at school board meetings and public forums.
You often have to take issues to where people normally gather. Town hall meetings with the school board in the neighborhood schools on specific topics would be one good approach. You also have to communicate in a variety of ways since not everyone "listens" in the same way. Use of the media and technology are good communication facilitators. Public participation starts in many schools with parental participation. Teachers and principals have a good sense of the support or lack of parental support for their schools, as do the PTO leaders. Those groups working together, with a focus on what's best for their own schools, could serve as a rich source of ideas for improving decision-making. School board members could meet with these groups to solicit ideas.
If you could send a tweet — that's 140 characters or less — to legislators in Topeka on behalf of the Lawrence school district, what would you say?
You hold the future of Ks in your hands w/ public school funding. Uphold Ks commitment to educated, contributing citizens by funding public ed.
Our students’ futures are worthy of your support. Give public education the priority it deserves!
Govt. Budget as expression of values: How about future return-on-investment? Devaluing our children’s education is not sustainable.
Education: foundation of our children’s future. Honor Constitutional obligations and expectations of Kansas parents. Ad Astra per Aspera
Not a realistic question. Legislators representing Lawrence are very supportive of Lawrence schools, including the University of Kansas, consequently such a "tweet" is not necessary for them. As for other legislators, particularly in leadership positions, a "tweet" from Lawrence is likely to have the effect of waving a red flag in front of a bull. If I were to wave such a flag, it would be to point out that economic growth requires an educated work force, which requires a greater investment of resources, including state funding.
Stop attacking education. Slashing public education funds year after year while refusing to look at revenue is irresponsible. #jerks
Why is our country 23rd in the world in education? How can we expect our kids to be leaders in the high tech global economy, if we refuse to fund secondary education?
Economic growth is based upon a strong public education foundation so don’t solve your budget problems on the backs of our children.
Kansas could be a nation leader in educational achievement and innovation with sufficient funding. But we cannot "cut" our way to greatness.