Lawrence school administrators and board members know that their budget situation could have been worse, but they still will face difficult choices as they look for another $900,000 in cuts for the next fiscal year.
Board members already have cut the WRAP social work program, a deputy superintendent’s position and several other positions, but they will have to find more reductions.
As they make those cuts, they are bound to start asking themselves exactly what services the district should provide. We have shifted so many auxiliary responsibilities to our schools. In order to preserve their ability to fulfill their core educational mission, will schools in Lawrence and across the state have to narrow their focus?
At Monday’s school board meeting, a group of Lawrence High School students pleaded the case of the school’s “prevention specialist,” the person who oversees programs to prevent alcohol and drug use among students. The district now has a full-time prevention specialist at each of the two high schools and is considering eliminating one of those positions.
It’s not that these people don’t do important work, but when did providing alcohol prevention programs become the school district’s job?
Over the years, there has been an understandable trend toward attacking social problems like drug and alcohol use and unstable family situations in the schools. That’s where professionals have access to the students who are having problems, problems that often interfere with their ability to make academic progress.
In a way, it’s a natural, but it means that more and more services — and expenses — get attached to school budgets, and in a tight budget year like this one, it raises questions about funding those services.
The list of possible cuts that school board members will discuss later this month also includes a number of other staff positions: secretaries, custodians, assistant coaches, library media assistants and high school security officers. For obvious reasons, district officials are hesitant to cut back on classroom teaching positions.
It’s a dilemma. If you keep the support staff and reduce the number of teachers, class sizes will rise, perhaps having an impact on student achievement. If you reduce support staff, it puts more pressure on classroom teachers to deal with social and mental health issues students bring with them, not to mention the fact that cutting custodial hours may have some teachers packing feather dusters in their school bags.
Not providing certain social services in the school also will increase pressure on a variety of nonprofit agencies that also are suffering financially right now.
As we said, these are tough choices. We know our school board members will try to do their best for local students, but, especially this year, district residents may have to understand that the public schools can’t do it all.