Archive for Tuesday, January 27, 2004

District plans for $1.5 million in cuts

January 27, 2004


The Lawrence school board agreed Monday to plan for $1.5 million to $2 million in spending cuts to create a "survive-and-advance" budget for next school year.

While no consensus emerged on where to slice spending in 2004-2005, there was agreement among board members and district administrators that a fourth consecutive year of budget-cutting would be more arduous than the previous three years.

"You're not going to find anything that doesn't have an advocate," said Supt. Randy Weseman.

He said this "survive-and-advance" blueprint didn't include salary increases for teachers. This past year, teachers negotiated a 3.5 percent raise.

The district's total budget authority in the 2003-2004 school year is $106.7 million.

The school board met for two hours with teachers, counselors, principals and other members of the district's budget committee to discuss Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposals for education spending. They also examined implications of Lawrence's enrollment decline, which will automatically drop state appropriations to the district by $669,000 next year.

Assuming the 2004 Legislature allocates no new money to public education, the district will have to rely on internal reallocation to pay higher utility and insurance expenses, cover enrollment losses and meet any salary or program enhancements.

Two approaches to reaching the $2 million target emerged at the meeting.

The board can continue to trim the edges of every layer of the district's budget. That technique has resulted in about $7 million in rollbacks in administration, special education, elementary and secondary education spending during the past three years.

An application for a $2 million grant to finance an online charter school earned approval Monday from the Lawrence school board.The board approved unanimously with no discussion the final version of an application to the Kansas State Department of Education. The district has worked several months on a three-year grant proposal.If the state approves grant funding to the Lawrence district, the money would be used to organize and operate a computer-based charter school for students in third through eighth grades in reading, writing, math, social studies and science.

Or the board can try a new, more controversial approach: Take down a couple of massive programs to cover the bulk of the reduction.

Board member Leni Salkind said consideration should be given to dropping all district funding for athletics and nursing services. Perhaps the community would be willing to finance those activities, she said.

Another option is to boost class sizes in elementary schools, said Mary Rodriguez, the district's executive director of human resources.

She outlined a proposal that would cap kindergarten through third-grade classes at 25 students and limit fourth-grade through sixth-grade classes to 30 students each.

These numbers are far above class-size goals adopted by the school board last year. The board's preference would be to have 13 to 17 students in kindergarten to third-grade classes and 18 to 26 students in fourth- through sixth-grade classes.

Weseman said the district's budget woes could be softened by a half-cent increase in the Douglas County sales tax with new revenue dedicated to public education.

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