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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

WESEMAN FEARS 2001-2002 BUDGET WITHOUT TEACHER RAISES

April 6, 2001

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"If they give us nothing, we have to talk about major cuts," he said. "That would include a hiring freeze. No raises.

"We'd have to start looking at what are the absolutes."

He said huge tax cuts always sounded wonderful to politicians, but tightening the revenue stream could have severe consequences for public school districts that depend on state appropriations.

"It's awful -- when you have to educate kids," he said.

The Lawrence district's budget committee, which is developing a spending plan for 2001-2002, met Thursday with Weseman at Free State High School. The committee convened one day after state legislators learned an economic slowdown likely would result in the collection of $185.5 million less in state revenue than anticipated by July 2002.

The district's committee absorbed that news while examining $3.3 million in new spending proposals for Lawrence schools. That total only factored in a 1 percent, or $360,000, increase in teacher pay.

Last year, teachers negotiated a 3.3 percent increase in salary and benefits.

Wayne Kruse, president of Lawrence Education Assn., said a budget that didn't include raises for teachers would be intolerable.

"Of course, it's not acceptable," Kruse said. "Raises have been minimal for many years."

He said cutting spending on programs that weren't directly tied to the classroom would be better.

For example, the district's committee discussed denying a $140,000 request from Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin to continue a program that places police officers in schools. Grants financing the program are expiring.

"It's a good program and it's helped us a great deal," said Joe Snyder, committee member and principal of Free State High School. "I'm speaking for myself. It's not worth $140,000 to the district."

Others on the committee questioned a request for $123,000 to hire nine new elementary school library assistants and a plea for $75,000 to expand all-day kindergarten to Woodlawn and Pinckney schools.

Weseman said the district would have to deal with a projected increase of 14 percent in health-insurance costs. He also said routine expenses, including a $350,000 rise in utility costs, were a worry.

The district might survive one more year of insufficient funding from the Legislature, Weseman said. But savage cuts in district programs will be required without a big boost in state appropriations in 2002, he said.

"A couple years of nothing from the state ... people can't get the ship out of the harbor."

-- Staff writer Tim Carpenter can be reached at 832-7155.

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