Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Board weighs funding priorities

Larger class sizes, staff cuts considered

December 5, 2001


Lawrence schools Supt. Randy Weseman said Tuesday that the state's budget problems could force the district to open next year with bigger elementary school classes and without all-day kindergarten programs.

Weseman said the teachers' union, Lawrence Education Assn., as well as the district's budget committee and Lawrence school board must work together to establish a plan for reallocating money to top priorities.

Consensus on a specific cost-reduction goal is required, and he tossed out figures ranging from $2 million to $2.5 million.

The community deserves to know what kind of changes will be made in Lawrence public schools, Weseman said, if the state's revenue situation remains so dire that deep cuts could hit state agencies during the 2002 legislative session.

"Let's get the pain out there," he said.

Some officials are speculating the state's budget reduction could be as great as 8 percent, Weseman said.

"What is our priority?" he said. "We need to understand what we're committed to in a year of limited resources."

He said the district's focus the past two years on raising teacher salaries and reducing student class sizes may be incompatible.

"There's not going to be a chicken in very pot," he said.

Mary Rodriguez, the district's director of human resources, offered the committee two budget-cutting options.

She said raising the number of students in elementary classrooms throughout the district could eliminate the need for 13 teachers and cut costs by $585,000 in 2002-2003.

One consequence of this decision would be creation of 25 "combination" classes in which children of two grade levels are thrown together. For example, her scenario would create four of these classes at Wakarusa Valley School and three at Prairie Park School.

"It would be a significant adjustment," Rodriguez said.

She also said $212,000 could be saved by eliminating all-day kindergarten programs in the district. That would strike Cordley, East Heights, Kennedy, New York and Riverside schools.

Members of the budget committee Tuesday raised the possibility of reducing district spending on extra-curricular activities, such as athletics and the performing arts, or of ending the policy of allowing students to take an extra early-morning class.

However, Weseman said tapping into these small-ticket items was like having a "bake sale" to pay off the national debt.

"You can cut soccer," the superintendent said, "which will bring a few people to the board meeting (to complain) ... and save $20,000."

At previous meetings, the budget committee has examined the possibility of reducing the district's staff of social workers, guidance counselors, gifted-student teachers and registered nurses. No recommendations have been made by the committee on any spending adjustments.

Committee member Joe Snyder, principal of Free State High School, said about 80 percent of the district's budget was tied up in employee salaries and benefits. It's obvious, he said, significant spending reductions would have to involve staffing changes.

"So, talking about priorities, we have to talk about where we have to be more efficient in terms of staffing," Snyder said. "People have to look at that clearly."

Last year, Weseman reorganized the district's administrative staff and saved an estimated $432,000.

At the budget committee's next meeting Dec. 18, the topic will be student transportation. It's likely a proposal will surface to begin charging a fee to carry students not required by state law to be driven by bus to and from school at district expense. The topic of junior high school and high school staffing will be the subject of a meeting in early January.

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