Welcome to our online chat with Lawrence Public Schools Supt. Randy Weseman.
The chat took place on Wednesday, May 17, at 1:30 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Welcome to today's chat with Lawrence Public Schools Supt. Randy Weseman.
I'm Dave Toplikar, online editor, and I'll be moderating today's chat.
Randy, we already have a lot of questions in the hopper.
But before we get started, I just wanted to ask you how graduation is going for the weekend, with both KU and the local high schools on Sunday? Here's also a question one of our readers submitted on the same topic.
Karen, Lawrence: Hi Randy, thanks for being here!
There has been a problem for many people with the close scheduling of the town's 3 graduations (KU/ LFSHS/ LHS) this year, and in checking already scheduled dates (KU and district calendars online) it seems that it will be a problem again next year. Why can't our High Schools schedule their graduations on dates different from each other and KU? Many of our students DO have friends at the other schools and are unable to attend any graduation but their own. Additionally, different dates would help the community by stretching out the hotel and other graduation business instead of a "no rooms available" crush for one day/weekend.
Also, what can be done to encourage more cooperation by KU with the district? Should we all start badgering the chancellor? Or is the Memorial Stadium use nonsense (and more!)attributable elsewhere?.
Supt. Randy Weseman: We are prepared for the weekend and are looking forward to honoring this year's graduates. As most people know, there has been a great deal of discussion about scheduling a date for next year's ceremony. This year our graduations are on the same day as KU. We are aware that this is less than ideal. In truth, there are no options that produce a conflict-free date. There are many factors to consider in setting a graduation date: required instructional hours for seniors, final exam schedules, graduation practice opportunities, staff participation and supervision, availability of a large venue (Memorial Stadium, Allen Fieldhouse, Haskell, etc.), cost, project graduation constraints...and the list goes on. The two major factors are venue and project graduation. Project graduation is a celebration planned by parents for seniors the evening of their graduation. It must be on a Sunday because of the venue they prefer. In addition, the availability of a large venue is extremely problematic as there are only two that fit the bill and scheduling them can be a challenge. In any event, we are planning on asking the board at its next meeting to consider other options to avoid this particular conflict. We have asked KU officials for the use of Memorial next year on Memorial day. This date avoids most major conflicts and allows project graduation a Sunday venue. We have not received an answer from KU to date. In summary, I can assure you that a conflict with KU graduation will not occur next year. On the other hand, a conflict-free date is most likely impossible to achieve.
Sue, Eudora: When will there be enough money given by the state? It seems they always increase it and it's never enough. This was $2.8 million you were not planning on and yet it's not enough either.
Supt. Randy Weseman: Let's start with breaking down the 2.8 Lawrence would receive if the current signed bill becomes law. 850 thousand comes off the top for special education. Another 800K and 250K are earmarked for "at-risk" students. I have no problem with this. Kids will benefit. Now, with these dollars earmarked, you begin working with something less than 1 million for salaries and increased costs like fuel, heating, cooling, textbooks, athletic supplies and so on. The increase in our health insurance for employees next year is 650K. It takes 500K just to give teachers a one percent salary increase. We have 7 million $ of requests to the board for other much needed educational programs. You can see that 2.8, although a great deal of money, only goes so far. We are the second largest employer in Lawrence...1800 employees with a 60 million dollar budget. 2.8 is barely cost of living. I would only ask that the legislature follow the recommendation of its own study. The bill they passed did not reflect the dollars recommended. Why not meet the study targets and then, in the future, allow schools increases that reflect some kind of cost of living index. Schools should not expect large sums of money every year but then again, our costs continue to rise at a rate higher than cost of living. School funding will continue to be an issue in Kansas because of the large number of rural school districts (of 300 districts, 156 have less than 600 kids) and the large urban areas were poverty is a significant issue. If the legislature in unwilling to mandate increased efficiency through consolidation....then it is going to remain real expensive to finance good education across the state. Enough said.
Stan in Lawrence: All-day kindergarten is a great idea and would be a great asset for all Lawrence Public Schools, not just for those with more at-risk students. If families of children eligible to receive free and reduced lunch would not be required to pay to participate in an all-day K program, how many fee paying families at what fee level would be necessary to fund a program? Wouldn't it be possible to craft a program that provides the number of all-day K classrooms that can financially be supported by the community rather than just give up on the idea? Many families would be willing to pay more than the proposed $240/mo. for all-day K. It costs approximately $400/mo. for half-day childcare including transportation to/from school.
lomalawrence: As a grandmother I don't see how on earth parents now days can afford sending kids to school with all theses fees(all day kindergarten $240/month, bus fees, school fees, sports fees, lunch fees, trip fees,pictures,and school fundraisers) what do you and the school board plan to do to help these families?
Jon Brown, Lyndon: Has there been any follow up studies to the students that had all day Kg. before it was dropped to see how they are doing with their peers that did not have all day kg.?
Jill, Lawrence: On of the school board members said parents should pay for all day kindergarten because many kids are in substandard care anyway. As a parent of a child in daycare and a proud teacher in your district, just wondering what your thoughts are about that comment. I know I was totally offended.
Jason, Lawrence: Not really a question, but more of an observation and comment. I'm very disappointed in the gap between those parents who want their child to attend all day kindergarten and those parents willing to pay for all day kindergarten. I understand that the cost for the family is high, but education is an investment worth undertaking, especially at the onset of a child's educational career. In sum, I am very frustrated that my child will be attending half day kindergarten because so many parents are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to provide their children with economic support. Despite the parents that dropped the ball, I'd like to thank Superintendent Weseman for his creative efforts in trying to get this done.
Moderator: And here's one more on kindergarten.
Chuck H., Lawrence: Why do you and our Board of Education seem surprised to realize that parents who make sacrifices to have one spouse stay home with children, may not be willing to pay $2400 for all-day kindergarten? In general, do you think that school systems have less appreciation for stay at home parents than say 10 or 20 years ago? Thanks in advance or your honest response.
Supt. Randy Weseman: We know through national research that all kids benefit from full-day K. Kids who are at risk benefit the most. Naturally, as an educator in charge of providing good service to the children of Lawrence, I am very supportive of a full-day program. The High-Scope Study of early education found that for every 1 $ invested, you receive 7$ in return in the form of decreased need for remedial services. I know of no other public service investment that produces this kind of return.
Supt. Randy Weseman: Regarding the issue of providing a fee-based program. This is a last gasp effort on my part to get it started until the legislature wises up to the benefits of the investment. Naturally, 240$ is a burden most families don't want to absorb. We did a survey and discovered that 75% want a full-day program but 46% feel the price is a problem. I certainly understand their concern. Based on this study, we did not feel we could offer a full-day program. Here's bottom line: I am not giving up on starting this program. We can't do it for next year but we can perhaps begin a program in the future to pick up the need for our children of poverty. If we keep asking the right questions, maybe the legislature will help out down the road.
Bob, Lawrence: You do a great job but you have got to help me on something terribly important: will kids in grade schools be able to bring cupcakes on their birthday or have cookies at their school parties? If not, who gets to enforce this restriction?
Bobbi;Lawrence: Is it true that you will no longer be able to bring treats to school on your child's birthday?
Aaron , Lawrence: Since moving to Lawrence, I have been disappointed to see Lawrence schools devote so little time to physical education and even recess, and meanwhile the fatty snacks are in the classroom all the time. My daughter was getting whole packs of Oreo cookies and brownies at 9am in the morning. Can't the schools adopt a more healthy environment -- and help combat child obesity?
Supt. Randy Weseman: I don't see a program that overtly prohibits parents bringing treats of some sort from time to time. I guess the question becomes, how much is too much? For me, one cupcake is dangerous. For others, well...we will have to continue to find where the middle ground is and devote our efforts to doing what is best for students. In short, we are not interested in policing twinkle consumption or cupcake parties. Never-the-less, the federal government wants a "wellness" policy and program and we know that healthy children learn more productively.
Supt. Randy Weseman: Good question. As you can tell from the last question....people have very different perceptions and values about physical education and consumption of snacks. As I said before, I believe that unrestrained snacking is a problem. Yet, our culture uses food to celebrate and socialize. Public schools are always trying to find ways to balance conflicting societal values. That is why I love this job.
Jay, Lawrence: What is going to be done about the ever-increasing number of teachers leaving the district to work in nearby districts that pay better? I don't think that throwing a ton of money at teachers will solve the problem either. Teachers in Lawrence are paid far-below the national or even state averages, and we use a pay system that is broken up into over twenty different pay grades. I'm all for flexibility, but wouldn't simplifying the pay scales and removing the cap on raises that a teacher earns do more for our teacher retention than a simple pay raise?
Supt. Randy Weseman: We have about the same number of teachers and other staff leave the district every year. In looking at our exit survey data it is apparent that they leave for a variety of reasons. Looking for better pay is one reason but not the primary one. People move on for many reasons...spouses take other jobs, etc. This year 48 people retired. Some people just like change. Overall, our staff retention rate is very high. The quality of life in Lawrence is our greatest recruiting tool. People want to live here, raise family here, go to KU, and live in a dynamic environment. We address salary every year to the ability given us by the state. The salary schedule you refer to is being negotiated this year. We are looking at a simplified, less step-driven instrument for distributing salary to teachers. This schedule would move teachers to a "professional level salary" more quickly than the current schedule. Teacher make the difference and we want good teaching rewarded.
Moderator: Because of Randy's schedule today, that will have to be the last question of the day.
Randy, thanks for coming down to the News Center and taking so many questions today.
I'd also like to thank our readers for providing so many questions.
Supt. Randy Weseman: Thanks for allowing me to answer questions about our school district. Keep asking....and remember that the devil lurks in the details. Give us a chance to explain and clarify.