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Archive for Wednesday, February 4, 2004

District makes plans to cut $2 million from budget

February 4, 2004

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The Lawrence school district's budget committee Tuesday got a glimpse of what it could mean to slice a minimum of $2 million from next year's budget.

Reaching that target set by the school board could require $629,000 in cuts at elementary schools, $695,000 at the junior high and high schools and a combined $814,000 from administration and special-education programs.

That would reflect a 4 percent reduction in all three budget areas.

"It's a starting point," said Kathy Johnson, the district's budget director. "This is similar to what we did last year, so everybody had to bring something to the table."

The 20-member committee of teachers, counselors, support staff, principals and school board members is charged with evaluating spending-reduction ideas that will be submitted by representatives of the three budget areas. The committee meets Feb. 17 to begin weighing options for the 2004-2005 school year budget, and it will submit a report to the school board this spring.

If the board approves spending reductions this summer, it would be the fourth consecutive year they've docked spending or increased fees to balance the budget.

Joe Snyder, a committee member and principal at Free State High School, said this round would deeply tarnish public education in Lawrence.

"Will this have a significant impact? Yes, it will," he said.

Johnson said the board identified no sacred cows in the budget. Last year's priority list of possible reductions was tossed, clearing the way for a fresh evaluation.

A special effort would be made this year to identify opportunities to capture much of the reduction by dropping whole programs, she said. In the past, that kind of scrutiny has led to the $480,000 school nursing program and the $739,000 activities and athletics budget.

Documents have been submitted to the school board outlining implications of teacher layoffs. For example, dropping 25 teachers would save the district $1 million annually. That move also would increase student class sizes.

Board member Linda Robinson said there was no way to give teachers salary increases without reducing staff.

"If we're going to give people raises, you've got to eliminate the number of people across the board," she said.

The committee discussed criteria that could be used to evaluate proposals for cuts. It's likely a rating system will be used to assess adjustments through the lens of student achievement and safety.

Other considerations: cost-benefit ratio, school board goals, legal mandates and influence on the teacher contract.

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