Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll to chat

December 3, 2009

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Lawrence superintendent Rick Doll with chat with readers on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 11 a.m.


Welcome to our online chat with Lawrence school district superintendent Rick Doll. Thanks for joining us today, Rick.

Rick Doll:

Thanks for inviting me to chat with the Lawrence community.


We'll jump right in with questions that we already have submitted, but readers can submit questions during the chat at anytime.


With all of the harsh budget cuts going on, what do you think of the tax breaks that were given to Mt. Oread Inn?

Rick Doll:

I am not familiar with those specific tax cuts. In general, the sales tax exemptions that the state legislature grants have a much more dramatic, negative impact on school funding than local property tax exemptions. Last year, state wide, $1 billion in sales tax revenue was exempt.


After reviewing several previous years budgets and audits and based on the budget crisis, Does the USD497 know how much we spend on each sport, fine arts, and humanities? and if so, will the people of Lawrence see something that shows how much we spend based on each activity? (Football, Choir etc)

Rick Doll:

We do know how much we spend on each sport/activity. Citizens can request that information from my office. Athletics and activities will be considered along with everything else for budget cuts, but we don't spend as much money on these activities as some people think. To make a real dent in the budget, entire programs or activities would have to be cut.


Welcome to Lawrence....
How do you expect elementary schools to operate without paper ? It is my understanding taht the schools have been told they will not get any more copying paper and some are out already.

Rick Doll:

We know schools need paper to operate. Instructional materials budgets have been cut by 50% so schools are feeling the pinch. We are asking schools to cut back, but we will provide the paper needed to educate our children.


Which central office Administrative positions have been eliminated or combined with other positions? What dollar savings have these moves netted?

Rick Doll:

This information will be provided to the board in the next couple of months. These cuts were made before I came on board but I am familiar with a couple of recent cuts. The associate supt. position was not filled with a savings of about $120,000 and the library media director was combined with technology. A number of other positions have been combined. It is my understanding that over the past 7 years about $750,000 in cuts have been made to district office administration.


With new budget cuts waiting in the wing, can you honestly say that USD 497 is not top heavy and could use some cuts at that level in the ESDC? Also last years cuts effected some of the assistant coaching positions, why are they being re-filled this year, if those positions were trully in the budget cut schedule? Do you think that last years cuts were not as deep as they should have been?

Rick Doll:

I can honestly say that USD 497 is not top heavy but we will make more cuts in this area. Some assistant coaching positions were cut and have not been restored. School administrators have some flexibility in determining which positions are filled but the total number of positions cut should not have changed.


There are quite a few questions on school reconfiguration.


If the community, school staff and students do not feel that moving the 9th grades up is a smart move why will the district still do it????

Rick Doll:

We don't know if the community, school staff and students feel that moving the 9th graders is not the right thing to do. The board is still gathering information on the issue. I have personally visited with most faculties and many site councils. I can report that there are some people who believe that moving the 9th graders is a good idea. My job is to report the pros and cons to the board, and as your elected representatives, they make the decision.

The board will develop different options for reconfiguration. After the holidays, the board will begin actively seeking input from the community on these options.


What is the likelihood that the current three-year high school system will be changed to a four-year system?


Rick Doll:

I cannot predict what the board will decide. The reason we are talking about it is because the board established the examination of current school configurations as a goal for this school year. If a decision is made to reconfigure, we will use next school year to plan for the move, so students would not move until the 2011-12 school year.

The board's primary motivation for studying this issue is whether a change would have a positive impact on student achievement.


I have heard there are plans to make all middle level schools' schedules consistent. Is this correct? Which schedule do you feel is most effective for middle schools/ junior highs: block, modified, or traditional?

Rick Doll:

Lawrence has a long tradition of site-based management. This means that each school has some flexibility in determining schedules, budgets, etc. There is a board goal to tighten some aspects of this site-based philosophy. Middle-level school schedules could certainly fall under this goal.

Another important point about middle-level school schedules is that IF 9th graders are moved the daily schedule can change to meet the needs of students at that level. We are tied to the 8 period days because 9th graders are earning high school credits and thus must attend each class a certain amount of time. It would be exciting to create a new schedule for middle-level students and yes, I would push for a consistent schedule across the school district.


I am concerned about elementary school closures. If it comes to having to close schools because of budget cuts, what criteria would be used to determine which school(s) may be considered for closure and how quickly might these closures happen?

Rick Doll:

First of all, possible school closings will be one of many budget cuts considered by the school board. Our budget was just cut another $3.3 million bringing our total to about $6 million in the current school year. This is about 10% of our general fund budget. Everything is on the table.

If the board has to close a school as one way to make the $6 million in cuts, the size, location, future maintenance issues and special programs located at that school will be considered.

The administration will suggest March as a target date for this decision.


What about possible boundary changes? Could we think about having true feeder schools to junior highs and to high schools?

Rick Doll:

The board has talked about this issue. Using a feeder school system the district could be organized so that all students from an elementary school automatically go to a certain junior high. The feeder school plan also means that all students from a junior high would automatically go to a certain high school. There are advantages to this system but it tends to create secondary schools that are not balanced from a socio-economic standpoint.

This is not a specific goal of the school board for this year.


In previous years anything left over in the general budget goes to capital outlay, why cant capital outlay "pay back" previous years leftovers to cover paper needs that are so desperatly needed in the schools.

Rick Doll:

By law, unspent general fund dollars can be transferred to capital outlay at the end of the year. But, also by law, capital outlay dollars cannot be spent on general fund expenditures like paper. I would welcome more flexibilty in this area but the legislature has to make the change.


USD497 benchmarks against BV, Olathe, and Shawnee Mission schools for athletic facilities. When was the last time we benchmarked our academic programs against theirs? Foreign languages are offered much sooner in those districts (some even in Kindergarten) and include many more lanugage options for students. Those districts also have more offerings of science and mathematics at the senior and junior high. What steps are planned to compete academically with those schools? Economic development hinges on great local schools - Johnson County is whipping us on this front.

Rick Doll:

Thanks for this excellent question dealing with academics. Though there are differences between Lawrence Public Schools and the Johnson County schools, I do not accept your premise that they are whipping us.

The achievement of Lawrence Public School students compares very favorably with the Johnson County Schools when ACT and SAT scores are used. We do use area school districts as a comparison. For example, most Johnson County School districts have made the decision to create larger elementary schools and larger classes to free up funds for elementary foreign language and other special programs. Elementary foreign language would be a nice additon to our academic program but we have to find a way to pay for it. In the current budget climate that means the funds have to come from cutting another program.


I want to apologize for not being able to get to all the questions, but that's all the time we have for the chat today. Thanks for joining us, Rick.

Rick Doll:

My pleasure, let's do this again in the new year.


volunteer 8 years, 4 months ago

I groan in contemplation of the grousing and second-guessing Dr. Doll will deal with the first time he decides to close (or not close) schools due to anticipated icy weather. ** No harm in asking the teacher to think twice before automatically using paper. Perhaps on some occasions a teacher can check comprehension by other means. It might help ease mind-numbing take-home paperwork for the teacher to grade as well.

Sounds like a great topic for in-service. SHOW the teachers how to save paper, central office Administrators. Justify your existence.

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