Lawrence school board members approved just under $1 million of cuts and cost-saving measures at their meeting Monday night.
One of those cuts was the WRAP program, a free mental health service provided by social workers in all Lawrence secondary schools. The contract with WRAP, which stands for Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, made up $250,000 of the total budget cuts.
The district administration offered up the list of cuts and savings to prepare for a tighter budget during the 2009-2010 school year.
“We’ve tried everything we can to stay away from students and the classroom,” said Frank Harwood, the district’s technology director. He will become the chief operating officer effective July 1. “The one thing that’s out there now that does affect students is WRAP.”
While Harwood said the WRAP program is of value to the district, tough economic times mean tough decisions.
“As we have less money to work with, we’re trying everything we can to stay out of the classrooms as much as possible,” he said.
WRAP costs about $500,000 to run. The district funds about half of that, with other money coming from Douglas County, which provides about $225,000, and the Juvenile Justice Authority, which gives about $21,000.
School board Vice President Scott Morgan said the cuts Monday were just the first round and the district may have to dig deeper to offset financial cuts from the Kansas Legislature.
“The bad things were cut a long time ago,” Morgan said. “We’re left to cutting things that are important to people and WRAP’s one of them.”
Mental health advocates are worried about the lack of the program in Lawrence schools. “Evidence is mounting that kids and young adults have serious mental health problems that need to be addressed,” said David Johnson, the CEO of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “The place where we should be is in the schools. Everybody believes that somebody else should pay for it.”
WRAP has two social workers in each high school and one in each junior high. The elementary level WRAP workers were taken out of the schools when the city of Lawrence pulled its funding a few years ago.
But Johnson isn’t giving up hope.
“We will meet and talk to the school district,” Johnson said. “We’re not just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything for kids. We’ve got great kid programs. The problem is how do we get the kids to those programs.”
A number of other recommendations were made to the board, including leave positions vacant like the deputy superintendent spot. Bruce Passman is retiring at the end of this year.
On the plus side, Morgan noted the cost savings from switching the high school outdoor athletic facilities from natural grass to turf. “We freed up operational money, $152,000, in things like mowing and seeding and staffing that we don’t have to use on those fields anymore,” he said.
The board will have a study session April 27 to look over other potential budget cuts to prepare for having less money coming from the state.