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Archive for Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Funding frustration reigns at school board meeting

March 28, 2006

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After three hours of listening to teachers, principals and administrators pitch ideas Monday on how to improve Lawrence schools, Craig Grant struggled - and failed - to contain his frustration.

"These are all very good requests. Every one of them helps kids," said Grant, who's still in his first year on the school board.

But the 35 spending proposals' pricetag topped $7 million - almost three times more than the $2.5 million that district officials expect to receive in additional state aid under a spending package passed by the House last week.

Grant said he had no way to know which proposals were better than the others.

"It's frustrating," he said.

Grant, a retired lobbyist for the Kansas-National Education Assn., also warned that the Lawrence school district could receive far less than $2.5 million. He hinted that most of the additional aid - whatever the amount - could be eaten up by pay raises for teachers.

"I don't know how to prioritize when I don't even have a target," he said.

Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman shared Grant's frustration over the budget-setting processes. "We're blindfolded with our hands tied behind our backs; it's the system we're given to work with," he said.

Under state law, school districts are expected to build their budgets for the coming year before they know how much money they'll have to spend.

"This is very difficult for me," Grant said.

"It doesn't get any easier," said board member Sue Morgan, who sits next to Grant.

Board members neither approved nor rejected any of the spending proposals presented Monday.

The proposals included hiring additional staff, replenishing library budgets, support for after-school programs, and giving substitute teachers a $9-a-day raise. A complete list is available on www.ljworld.com.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center representatives asked the board to put up $350,000 for its WRAP program, which gives every school in the district regular access to a master's level mental health worker.

The grants that have funded WRAP in the past are due to expire this summer.

Bert Nash's board also has asked the city of Lawrence for $250,000 and Douglas County for $225,000.

Though popular with board members, WRAP is not a shoo-in.

A coalition of elementary school principals asked the board to view the grants' coming to an end as an opportunity to broaden the WRAP workers' duties in ways that would reduce "fragmentation" with the other counselors, social workers and prevention workers employed by the district.

It's possible, said Hillcrest School Principal Tammy Becker, that WRAP workers could "do a variety of things" rather than spending most of their time in one-on-one counseling sessions.

All-day kindergarten likely a go

There's a good chance Lawrence schools will reinstate all-day kindergarten this fall.

Supt. Randy Weseman on Monday said the Legislature appeared sincere in its support for a spending package that would phase in funding for all-day kindergarten over three years.

"We could do it the first two years, charging fees," Weseman said during a board meeting. "The third year, it'd be paid for."

In recent weeks, Weseman has warned that if the Legislature waited until mid-April or May to make its intentions known, the district would not have enough time to make the switch from half- to full-day kindergarten.

"Right now, it appears to be their intention," he said. "We can get started. If things change, we can back off."

Until 2001-02, the Lawrence district had all-day kindergarten at Cordley, Kennedy, New York, Riverside and East Heights schools.

Budget pressures forced the district to cut classes back to half-day in 2002-03.

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