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Archive for Wednesday, February 3, 2010

District weighs budget options

Deficit likely to stretch to $5M

The Lawrence Board of Education discussed their study of budgets ideas for the school district Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010. Superintendent Dr. Rick Doll, left,  spoke during the study session meeting.

The Lawrence Board of Education discussed their study of budgets ideas for the school district Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010. Superintendent Dr. Rick Doll, left, spoke during the study session meeting.

February 3, 2010

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School board discusses drastic changes

From closing schools to increasing the number of students in each classroom, the school board discussed many potential changes at a study session on Tuesday. Enlarge video

Lawrence school board budget study session

Kathy Johnson, division director of finance, goes over the 2008-09 cuts that were made for the 2009-10 school year.

Lawrence school board study session attendees, from left, Jessica Beeson, Alee Phillips and Aline Hoey flip through pages of information at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. The school board discussed the district’s budget ideas Tuesday.

Lawrence school board study session attendees, from left, Jessica Beeson, Alee Phillips and Aline Hoey flip through pages of information at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. The school board discussed the district’s budget ideas Tuesday.

School closings on the line in Lawrence

With a $4 million budget deficit growing to $5 million, the likelihood of school closings seems to be increasing.

It was two and a half hours of talk about options for budget cuts in Lawrence schools, including fewer secondary school courses, more students in elementary classes, fewer positions, and even closing some elementary schools.

“It made clear just how bad every choice is out there,” school board President Scott Morgan said.

Board members heard cost estimates during a televised study session Tuesday as they look for ways to close a budget deficit of $4 million, which likely will stretch to $5 million.

The state budget crisis has decreased base state aid per pupil, and the district recently learned the cost of its health insurance program will increase by about $1 million for next year, Superintendent Rick Doll said.

“Having spent a lot of time looking at this, the end result is that school will look very different in August of 2010 than it does today,” said Kim Bodensteiner, chief academic officer.

Administrators spent the study session presenting estimates on savings in areas such as eliminating administrative and classified staff positions and certain programs. They also saw projections on scenarios such as shifting boundaries to put students in elementary schools that have more space.

Chief Operations Officer Frank Harwood presented how much it would save per school to close Quail Run, Wakarusa Valley, Sunset Hill, Hillcrest, Pinckney, Cordley or New York schools. Harwood chose those schools for the scenario because he didn’t have specific direction from board members on which ones to look at.

Advocates against closing elementary schools criticized the options for only including an estimated $250,000 cut among district administration.

“At the same time they targeted millions of dollars against elementary schools and in particular elementary schools serving low-income and minority kids on the east side of town,” said Chuck Epp, a Cordley School parent and member of Save Our Neighborhood Schools.

Board member Mark Bradford said the budget crisis would force the district to look at being efficient.

“The things we have been accustomed to in our neighborhood schools we simply can’t afford anymore,” Bradford said.

Morgan said board members will have to work toward reaching a consensus on the cuts in coming weeks. In another wrinkle, he said some board members now want the board to consider school reconfiguration — moving sixth-graders to middle schools and ninth-graders to high schools — for this fall instead of next year as originally planned.

Budget Cut Options

On Tuesday, school district administrators were presented a long list of possible cuts with savings estimates. A few examples:

• Cost savings for closing various elementary schools: Quail Run, $648,448; Wakarusa Valley, $474,967; Sunset Hill, $573,662; Hillcrest, $572,137; Pinckney, $469,357; Cordley, $447,785; and New York, $536,341.

• Reducing 5.6 percent of district administration and support: $250,000.

• Cutting elementary counselors by five full-time positions: $267,120.

• Eliminating three full-time learning coach positions: $160,905.

• Dropping from 12 full-time school nurses to seven: $222,369.

• Increasing the student-teacher ratio by one student reduces the need for 20 K-12 teaching positions, while by four students it would be about 79 fewer positions.

Comments

honestone 4 years, 10 months ago

Boundry changes vs closing schools... What do you think??? Are you east or west of LA? North or south of 23rd?

workinghard 4 years, 10 months ago

We can save the most closing Quail Run? Interesting.

cavtrooper 4 years, 10 months ago

Trim the buget. How about triming some of those highly paid admin positions. How about losing some consutants and non-teaching positions. Use that money for what really matters. Teachers and schools.

Paula Kissinger 4 years, 10 months ago

"Chief Operations Officer Frank Harwood presented how much it would save per school to close Quail Run, Wakarusa Valley, Sunset Hill, Hillcrest, Pinckney, Cordley or New York schools. Harwood chose those schools for the scenario because he didn’t have specific direction from board members on which ones to look at."

Because he didn't have direction from the board on which ones to look at ? Can't he figure this out himself ? He's the district's diamond in the rough ! He shows up here 5 years ago, takes helm at Central, and has no idea what he is doing there other than to declare that he is in charge. Three years later he is miraculously heading the teacher salary mediation team, when at Central he could not resolve a simple squabble, and is now the C.O.O. and still has no idea what he is doing. He is being paid a ridiculous amount of money to double-talk and run interference and, so far, has too many people fooled.

Speaking as a parent who went through this 6 years ago, nobody wants to lose their neighborhood school. Nobody wants their children to suffer because their schools do not have what is necessary for appropriate education. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes or tuitions and fees. But this is what has taken place over the years in this school district and, appears, to be happening again.

What has taken place in the past has not worked. The board and the district seem too willing to make the same mistakes again and, if it was such a great idea years ago, why is it happening again ? I believe it is time for an outside agency to see what exactly is going on at the top because, it does roll downhill.

I suggest to the parent groups to seek resolve from the governing authorities of the district. Do your homework, dig up what you can find, that is most likely buried from the past 30 years, and present your case. It is going to be up to the parents to resolve this because your kids are going to be the ones who are going to suffer, as ours have in the past.

I have seen a lot in my years in and out of this city, state and country, and this is above and beyond the worst operational school district imaginable. Kids are graduating without skills and education to achieve success in higher education and the business world. We are not getting our money's worth and our kids are suffering at the hands of the greedy/power hungry in charge.

Parents, it's up to you now to try to grab the reins and put an end to this. You and your children are, again, going to be the ones to suffer the biggest losses. We, the taxpayers, are just going to lose more money. I wish you the best.

youngjayhawk 4 years, 10 months ago

Eliminate 3 learning coach positions ... why only 3??? Any teacher in this district will tell you that those are worthless positions ... a waste of money. I'm still wondering why the sb does consider lengthening the school day & shortening the calendar year. Many districts have saved money with this solution. While it is not the magic cure to the budget woes, it would save money while not to the detriment of students.

SettingTheRecordStraight 4 years, 10 months ago

I'd recommend that everyone pay a visit to Free State High School's soccer field to see the astroturf (no joke) and warming huts (not kidding).

It's incredibly difficult to feel sorry for those who are 100% opposed to closing underutilized Lawrence schools when we have such ostentatious excess in our backyard.

SayWhat 4 years, 10 months ago

I would like to know what the growth projections are for the district. If they choose to close school(s) now, then ask for a bond issue to build a new school within the next 10 years I would be furious.

anonyname 4 years, 10 months ago

I love how an article on education starts with a grammatically incorrect sentence, using a pronoun (It) without explaining what "it" is.

To the previous commenters: What have you done to help improve the school district? There are eight comments above mine. I'd bet at least half of you have never taken any action to personally improve local schools.

youngjayhawk, I agree with you about learning coaches. Both of the districts I taught in had them in some form, and in any form they were useless.

anon1958 4 years, 10 months ago

Cut some expensive and unneeded after school sports programs?

sourpuss 4 years, 10 months ago

I don't know... if health care costs are going up $1 million a year, then we'll have to close one school a year to make up for it. Or, I know! Just drop health insurance for the district. I mean, health insurance is a bonus, right? You don't REALLY need it. You can get your own! The Lawrence and state taxpayers shouldn't have to busy health insurance for teachers and administrators! I mean, are we socialists? Dump the health insurance and save a LOT of money! If the rates are increasing $1 million, what is the current baseline? Definitely dump the health insurance.

bd 4 years, 10 months ago

Dont ask Sen. Hensley for help, he is hard at work introducing a bill to reinstate Doug Wright's(ex topeka mayor/convicted embezzeler) teaching cert. ????

JohnDa 4 years, 10 months ago

This meeting did nothing to convince me that the administration knows what they are doing. Mr. Harwood presented several scenarios that were poorly thought out. Then attached a cost savings to closing each of those schools. But the only cost savings were realized if the buildings were not maintained or operated. I find it hard to believe that the school board will be able to sell any of the elementary schools by next year, or even the year after that. Centennial and East Heights have never been sold and still have the same operation budget as before they were "closed".

Steve Jacob 4 years, 10 months ago

Am I being mean by saying no way the rich part of town (Quail Run) losses a school? If your going to close schools, we have a good opportunity at looking at the census 2010 numbers to look into the future.

An run for election if you don't like it. 5M is a lot of money to cut, so give them a break.

SayWhat 4 years, 10 months ago

Cheeseburger, I think you are missing the point when you say "what else can be done." There is NO COST SAVINGS by simply closing a school. It's the reduction of staff that creates the savings. That can and will happen whether or not schools are closed. The administration is counting on this exact line of confusion in order to justify closings.

volunteer 4 years, 10 months ago

Is the superintendent showing any leadership at all on this issue? So many of the choices listed here (compiled by an Administrator?) would affect the children greatly, while only a modest 5.6% cut in central office expenses is suggested.

areyousure 4 years, 10 months ago

I believe that in the beginning of last night's study session, it was explained that a large amount of the cuts made for this school year came from administrative staff. I think the number was around $2 million.

The largest budget item for the district has to be payroll. And with 13 grade schools, 4 junior highs and 2 high schools, I would imagine that the biggest section of that is teachers.

In last night's news, Kansas City's school district is facing a 14 million dollar cut. Their solution - cut sports and other extra curricular activities such as music and forensic. Is this what the people of Lawrence would want? Keep all the schools open but have no more athletics, music, debate, drama and art programs?

$5 million is a lot of money to cut. And like any budget, there are fixed costs. The state mandates that a certain number of hours have to be taught. And whether those hours are in a four day week or an 8 or 9 month school year, teacher salaries will be the same. I wonder how much leverage the district has with teacher salaries. The state is talking about implementing pay cuts and furloughs for their employees. Is that an option for the school district? Obviously, furloughs would not work well for classroom teachers.

And how much savings will come from pulling a little from this school or that program? Closing a school is not an easy decision but at least it is one that might keep programs and services available in the remaining schools.

With the population growth patterns, what are the odds that a closed school would fall in the same area as the need for a new one? Is the population around Hillcrest or Cordley going to increase that substantially? Lawrence is growing to the southeast and the west.

4getabouit 4 years, 10 months ago

Same old stuff. Blame the administration, the board, the teachers. The locals just keep fighting and blaming the people trying to make ends meet instead of addressing the poor budgeting practices of the legislature. Keep it up. You play right into the strategy of the conservative agenda of "starving the beast." They want to destroy public schooling or "government schools" as they call them. All they need now is Same Brownback to swing the final blow. Divide and conquer.......it always works.

SayWhat 4 years, 10 months ago

areyousure - I'm sure you realize a major reason growth has increased in those directions is because schools have been built out there. When Langston Hughes was built, there was not the need for classrooms in that area, but the people who did live there wanted their own NEIGHBORHOOD school. And the rest of us supported it.

Regarding your suggestion that closing schools is an alternative to closing programs, please explain your reasoning. Even the administration and board have explained that there is no significant savings in closing a building. It is the reduction in staff that will save money, weather spread across 20 buildings or 25 buildings.

proudmom 4 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence residents need to step out of the "box". When is this town going to realize with growth, changes have to be made. Stop being so scared of change. Cities are bound to grow and it is time that Lawrence stops living like it is still in the 80's. That is why their is so much division in this town based on "which side of 15th you live on" or "west side of town vs. east side of town" because everyone rejects change. The school district is trying to take care of what is taking place at the Capital. Do you not realize that this has NOTHING to do with the new facilities at the high schools or the learning coaches salaries or the even the district admisinstrative positions this is state wide problem not just local!!!!!! All districts right now are going thru the exact same thing that we are! Kids adapt alot better than we give them credit and 90% of the time, it is the parents that don't want to adapt to the change not the kids!!!

Clickker 4 years, 10 months ago

This will, and is getting Political in a hurry. Quail Run?? Please. This is mentioned only to appease a certian vocal minority. Meanwhile, take a drive south on Metcalf in JOCO. The Blue Valley district continues to build Taj Mahal's .....much better facilities than Lawrence can even dream of. Look at the new BV Southwest. Looks like a Jr. College. Lawrence is bloated, and needs to cut the waste, even if it is politically unpopular.

kugrad 4 years, 10 months ago

one-eye brings up this point almost daily: "it is time for this USD 497 to get it's spending in iine and reduce the school levy on local property taxes. Until that happens, no businesses of substance are going to locate in Lawrence to assist in driving up local employment figures. They can go elsewhere, where the mill levy is lower, they can go elsewhere where there is less instrusion by local government in building"

This argument is blatanly false and rather absurd. First of all, in the 1990's, the property-tax contribution to public schools was cut by almost 50%. It didn't have any effect on attracting businesses (many large employers get tax abatements anyway), and that wasn't the purpose of the cut. The mil levy that is allowed isn't set by the city or local school board one-eye, it is capped by the state. In fact, much of the state is 0.5% higher than Lawrence because our district opted not to use the last 1/2% allowable increase in the LOB. 
The fact of the matter is that businesses tend to locate in areas with quality schools. It was a business journal that was placing Lawrence Public Schools in the top 5% just a couple of years ago. The LOB has nothing to do with businesses choosing to come here or go elsewhere.

Sourpuss, you need a civics lesson. There is nothing "socialist" about having health insurance provided to public employees. After all, large employers tend to offer insurance in the private sector. Certainly any business of comparable size as the school district offers insurance. Taxpayers currently fund insurance, and have for over a century at least, for basically all full-time governmental employees including the President, Congress, the Cabinet, federal employees, the Governor, the State legislatures, State employees, many munincipal employees etc. What justification would you use to single out teachers as the group who should become uninsured? Are you aware that teachers have the worst insurance of ALL the groups mentioned above? Why is it "socialism" to insure teachers?

JohnDa 4 years, 10 months ago

"Lawrence residents need to step out of the “box”. " - The "box" that we were in involved caring about education, proudmom wants to spend as little as possible to make her child literate. That's thinking!

as to the "the vocal minority" that oppose school closure - the silent majority better speak up, but I suspect they are silent because they don't care about much at all

"Lawrence is bloated, and needs to cut the waste" - the "waste" that you refer to that is being cut is teachers. Do you seriously think teachers are "bloat" and paying them is a waste of money?

nlf78 4 years, 10 months ago

Why aren't the administrators, who are supposed to be working for the "greater good", sacrificing anything? Cut some jobs, lose some benefits, but keep our childrens education intact. I certainly don't want to see schools close, but it might feel a little more fair if the district administration showed they were are open to making personal sacrifices.

proudmom 4 years, 10 months ago

I never said to "spend as little as possible to make my child literate"!!! So, quote accurately JohnDa!!! All I said is that not all changes have to be negative or wrong but alot of people in Lawrence like to make it that way. I understand there is alot of history in the schools and hate to see students not being there but if it helps Lawrence / Lawrence district get out of the crisis that we are in, I think it is something that we all need to look at. There are alot of districts that are having to do the exact same thing because of the Kansas debt! It is so much more than just Lawrence right now it is the whole state!!! The last thing I want is any student/child to suffer and go without a great education!

workinghard 4 years, 10 months ago

So proudmom, you would be ok with closing Quail Run, since it seems that is where the most money would be saved. I think PFC's idea deserves some consideration.

das 4 years, 10 months ago

The "new" superintendent makes $156,000......lets start slicing from the top and work down (oh wait...he has a contract...no touchy...nice). You don't need that for a comfortable living in Lawrence. I'd settle gladly for half that.

sourpuss 4 years, 10 months ago

@kugrad I was actually being sarcastic.

That said, health insurance is a luxury, like a car a house, and anything else not guaranteed by the government. If you can't afford it, you don't get it. Lawrence is too poor to afford to provide it. While I don't think it is socialism, I do think it is optional, in this case. If people don't like losing their insurance, then they should vote for people who are willing to balance the budget and pull in enough taxes to pay for such things.

workinghard 4 years, 10 months ago

Is the school district health insurance self insured?

Danimal 4 years, 10 months ago

It's great that they're talking about closing schools and increasing class sizes, but haven't even mentioned curtailing sports and extracurricular activities budgets.

finance 4 years, 10 months ago

das (Anonymous) says…

"The 'new' superintendent makes $156,000. You don't need that for a comfortable living in Lawrence."

That's cheap. Who'd want the job with patrons like you? All the whining about 'socialism', while you right-wingers are busily trying to level everything down--to your level. Isn't that one viable definition of socialism? Chuckle: how ironic--the right-wingers are now the chief proponents of socialism and egalitarianism. Get it? Probably not--not even with a dictionary.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

"I wonder how many in the school district cares if Amaar goes teats up? Not many if any at all. How many district employees care if what was FMC laid off workers, not many if any at all." - oneeyewilbur

As a resident of Lawrence, I would care a great deal about any of our businesses going teats up. I also care about teachers and aides being laid off. Unlike many who post on this forum, I have a large capacity of caring, and so do most people in this town.

proudmom 4 years, 10 months ago

To "workinghard" I would prefer no schools to close especially those that have a high enrollment. I would hate any employees to loose their job and a child to have to start over somewhere. What I am saying is, I think we have to be more open minded when it comes to the debt that LAWRENCE and the whole state of KANSAS is in right now. I am sure parents didn't want to see any of the previous schools closed down but would tell all of us, they were able to continue on at their new schools. The whole situation is hard to understand or take especially for ones that work in the district and are worried everyday what is going to be taking place in the very near future!

salad 4 years, 10 months ago

The fundamental premise of "more $$$ = better schools" is the flaw. The educrats in charge of the district use this unquestioned baseline to ensure they'll always have a fat check. Make em live within a budget, and start by cutting educrats.

Christine Anderson 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm frightened for my two kids who still have many years left in school. I'm terrified that when cutting "other programs" is mentioned, that means services for special needs children. Dear God, what on earth are parents going to do? Wish I were a Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, etc. so I could save my childrens' teachers' jobs! Waste? Let's talk the amount spent on sports facilities in this city. Yes, I know that sports do have a positive value for students, but if we have to make choices between academics and sports, it should be a no-brainer. My 5th grade autistic fella has the finest a public school can offer, but they are already pared down and stretched beyond their limits.I can't provide him with the special ed he needs myself. I don't want him to lose any of his paras or his autism specialist teacher. My 4th grader? If our schools keep getting sliced and diced, maybe I could convince him to do an online program, and arrange for social opportunities and P.E. on my own.

four11 4 years, 10 months ago

Closing schools is permanent. Athletics and services can bounce back over time.

I agree academics over sports, academics over administration!

One side of town should not have to bare the entire burden--east side has already lost schools!
Share this burden.....Support all schools!

kugrad 4 years, 10 months ago

Well Sourpuss, you still don't answer my question - why should teachers be the ones who lose their insurance while all other public employees keep theirs? People DO vote, in Lawrence, to elect people who support education. With the exception of Pine and Brown, our area legislators are strong supporters of public education. We can't vote in Hutchinson or other areas out west that are electing the people who are causing the problem. So, the old argument of working through the system isn't really working. The system broke awhile back!

Uhjh 4 years, 10 months ago

So just how much was spent on extra curriculum activities not education? A top heavy administration with bloated salaries and artificial egos what can be expected. Stupid decisions with absolutely no forethought for long term repercussions just a quick fix for now. Couple this with a legislation trimming funds because they dislike public education rather than improving it and you only get a backwards thinking state. Education must be a priority and increasing class sizes by closing schools does not benefit education period. It’s time to get rid of hooligans running the system and replace them with some true professionals dedicated to education.

sandersen 4 years, 10 months ago

Put this to a vote, allow our citizens to impact whether we cut administration by half and make up the budget shortfall, or follow the ill-advised, non-common sense approach and permanently alter the landscape of our city in a truly destructive manner.

sandersen 4 years, 10 months ago

For a common-sense approach, check out this blog:

Blog: Usd 497 - Excessive Administration Costs - Feb 3 2010...

commuter 4 years, 10 months ago

Who in the adminsitration is going to get cut?? Is it the people who have to review all IEP & medicaid billings to make sure that teachers do their job and properly record thie time?? If so, is the LEA willing to reduce their overall pay for teachers when the state auditors come in a find a whole lot problems in record keeping because teachers do not do all of their jobs.

It is easy to say the admin is bloated but do any of you know what they actually do?? I know a couple of them and in my opinion the ones I know are grossly underpaid.

The USD497 health insurance sucks. The major problem is that most people who can use their spouse's insurance will because it is cheaper and you have a better insurance.

imamomma 4 years, 10 months ago

Eliminate 3 learning coach positions … why only 3??? Any teacher in this district will tell you that those are worthless positions … a waste of money.

AMEN to that!!!

Frank Hays 4 years, 10 months ago

Seems like our bureaucratic heavy administration laden system is imploding yet they continue to trot out bond issues and the masses keep voting them in without any accountability. Didn't this band of bureaucrats just find enough money to build two brand new football stadiums and redo the astroturf at Free State baseball stadium????? Seems like there is plenty of money to go around but when the state starts tightening down, then the talk turns to laying off teachers, closing down schools and eliminating bus service, yet we have the millions for new sports facilities. Maybe, just a thought, we could eliminate all of the administrators at McDonald Drive that make more than the governor of Kansas in annual salary. We could then easily find the money since no one is holding them accountable anyway!!! While we are at it, let's get a whole new school board that has more sense and has the courage to stand up to these mealy mouthed administrators who double talk their way into justifying their own jobs without any care for the children of our district.

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