Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Coaching jobs spared at schools for time being

June 20, 2003


Nearly four dozen coaching jobs at Lawrence secondary schools are safe -- for now.

Consensus is emerging on the school board to target $1.7 million in budget cuts from a possible $3.9 million in a priority list developed during the past year.

Those cuts include slashing music education staff positions and private-school tuition for special education students. They stop short of a $130,000 line item containing salaries for 44 coaches involved in baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, soccer, volleyball, track, cross country, wrestling, football, basketball, cheerleading and gymnastics.

"I'm comfortable where the $1.7 million is now," said Scott Morgan, the board's president.

But an upcoming school board debate about socking more money into the district's diminished contingency fund could jeopardize some or all of these coaching slots. Part-time jobs tied to marching band, debate and drama also would be in limbo.

Board member Sue Morgan said the district's depleted emergency account should be restored to the $2.4 million limit allowed by law.

With state tax revenues falling below expectations, she said, the prudent move would be to go deeper into the district's budget-cut list. That would provide a cushion against possible education funding cuts by the Legislature during the 2003-2004 school year, she said.

"I think we need to do the maximum," Sue Morgan said.

The district's contingency fund holds about $1.9 million.

Adding the maximum of $500,000 to that account, assuming no juggling of the priority list by the board, would require elimination of all 44 coaching positions. It also would slice spending on programs in fine arts, libraries, music and nursing.

That kind of talk pulls sweat to the brow of Pam Pine, softball coach at Free State High School for the past seven years. She and three assistant coaches manage three softball teams -- varsity, junior varsity and the "C" squad.

Under the proposed cut for sports programs, Free State and LHS both would lose an assistant coach for softball. That would save the district $4,600 a year, but Pine said the move also would undermine development of her young players.

Items in a $1.7 million package of budget cuts crafted by the Lawrence school board:¢ $226,500 reduction that assumes the district won't pay private-school tuition for any special-education students.¢ $223,110 saved by dropping American Sign Language in high schools and phasing out French and German in junior high schools.¢ $200,000 in district funding of special education replaced by anticipated increases in federal grants.¢ $135,000 cut by eliminating administrative jobs of director of assessments and director of vocational education.¢ $110,365 saved by eliminating 2.5 full-time equivalent staff for elementary band and orchestra.

"It would really hurt our program," said Pine, who teaches physical education at Free State. "It's a sad thing all the way around. I don't know what the answer is. I feel bad for the board, too."

Scott Morgan said the desire to build a thicker shield against financial collapse had to be balanced against the value of extracurricular activities to students.

"My thing was to protect that core group of activities," he said.

Board member Mary Loveland said the district would have needed to go at least $1 million more -- regardless of decisions about the contingency fund -- had the board not closed Riverside, Centennial and East Heights elementary schools in May.

"We haven't taken down more sports because of the money we saved from operating fewer buildings," she said. "You can't lose sight of that."

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