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Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Budget cuts could double

January 24, 2002

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Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said Wednesday that the district's budget nightmare might be twice as scary as previously thought.

He said plans must be made to cut as much as $5 million of the district's $85.8 million budget. That would cover possible reductions in state aid to schools and free up money for operating cost increases, including employee salary raises.

"Serious adults have to have a serious discussion about where we're going to spend our money," Weseman said. "I'm not a doom-and-gloom person, but I don't know how to put more perfume on this."

He said such a large budget realignment would "fundamentally change our organization."

Until now, the district's worst-case scenario for cost-cutting was $2.4 million. That's the amount Gov. Bill Graves said state funding to the Lawrence district could be cut if the 2002 Legislature didn't approve tax increases to support public school districts.

But negative reaction by lawmakers to Graves' appeal for new taxes makes it likely districts will have to dig deeper into their own budgets, Weseman said.

"People will shudder and say, 'You're really going to ask us to cut back $5 million?' But we've got to be prepared for that," he said.

The district's budget committee will bring to the school board Monday a half-dozen options for trimming expenditures by $2.1 million. The list includes elimination of 40 full-time jobs, a streamlined bus system that includes a pay-to-ride component, dropping all-day kindergarten, a limit of six courses each semester for high school students and an increase in teaching load districtwide.

Those sorts of changes would be necessary to accommodate any increase in teacher pay, if state aid is reduced or remains flat.

"We're going to be faced with decisions we've never had to face before," said Sue Morgan, Lawrence school board president

Board member Austin Turney said he was convinced the list of possible spending changes had to go beyond $4 million.

"We'll set up priorities, and if the governor's proposal comes through, we'll know what we'll bring back in," he said.

Other issues driving the potential cuts:

$1.5 million would be needed to match last year's 3.1 percent wage hike. It costs nearly $500,000 for every 1 percent increase in salary for the district's 1,500 teachers, administrators and classified employees.

$600,000 for textbooks required to begin a new math program in kindergarten through eighth grade.

A possible 25 percent increase in the district's health-insurance premium.

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