Archive for Sunday, February 14, 2010

District has options for budget cuts, none painless

The Lawrence school board has many options to balance its budget, but none of them are pleasant.

February 14, 2010


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.

Recent Lawrence school board meetings and public forums have featured some tense moments amid discussions of cutting school programs, increasing class sizes, offering fewer courses, laying off teachers and even closing schools.

The board is working to trim $5 million from its 2010-2011 budget because of decreases in funding from the state of Kansas, as well as increases in costs, such as health insurance policies.

“We know what the community doesn’t want us to do, which is everything that’s on our list,” said Scott Morgan, the board’s president.

But all too soon, board members must make tough decisions — and likely make many people unhappy.

Here’s a look at some issues the board is weighing.

What major options have come up?

Administrators have presented cuts in three major areas. Board members could approve a combination of the three, try to avoid some of them or add something else to the list.

• Program cuts — Administrators last Monday ranked $3 million worth of school program, administrative and classified staff cuts into four tiers. The first tier — most recommended — includes a $250,000 cut to district administration and support. Other options further down the list include fewer guidance counselors, school nurses and library services, for example.

• Student-teacher ratio — The district would need about 20 fewer teaching positions each time the ratio jumped by one student. The drawbacks are larger classes and fewer courses to offer. Increasing the ratio by one student would save $1.1 million, and a three-student increase would save $2.9 million. Some parents voiced concern over classes being too large if the district does not close any schools.

• Closing schools — This option has gained the most vocal public opposition, including creation of an organization called Save Our Neighborhood Schools. More than 30 people spoke against the option at a board meeting last week. Administrators have said closing one elementary school would save $400,000 to $600,000.

Teachers could potentially face pay cuts

The Lawrence school district could save money by cutting teacher pay. Enlarge video

Has the district considered across-the-board pay cuts?

Superintendent Rick Doll last week said that it would take a 6.15 percent pay decrease for all district employees to save $4 million. However,the school board doesn’t have unilateral control over teachers’ pay because their salaries are negotiated every year during contract talks.

But Doll said board members could still consider pay cuts for administrators and classified employees to find some savings.

Does Save Our Neighborhood Schools also have a plan for saving money?

Yes. The group says the district could save $4.9 million to $5.5 million without closing any schools.

The plan includes $2.2 million to $2.5 million in program cuts that administrators have identified. Group members say the district should increase the student-teacher ratio by one student and assess noncore secondary school programs to save an additional $1.5 million. Due to the number of teacher retirements, district officials say the loss of teaching jobs would be marginal if the ratio increases by one student.

Save Our Neighborhood Schools also proposes $750,000 to $1 million in accounting and administration “efficiencies.” The list of possible savings includes $100,000 for eight summer furlough days for administrators; $300,000 by having one junior high school and elementary school share a principal; $200,000 to eliminate two assistant high school principals; and $50,000 by lowering thermostats in the winter.

Raquel Alexander, a parent and assistant Kansas University business professor, said the district could save $1 million if it stopped using its general operating fund for certain student materials. She said money for that should strictly come from the “student materials revolving fund,” which is funded by fees.

The group says the district can also collect $500,000 or more in extra revenue through certain fee increases and a $200,000 fundraising campaign.

Doll said district officials were evaluating the group’s proposal.

Why can’t the district sell land it owns and raise money that way?

State law requires districts to generally keep two separate pots of money — one for operating expenses and another for capital expenses to fund buildings, equipment and furniture. If the district sold any real estate it owned, including school buildings, it could only use the money for its capital budget instead of funding general operations, said Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer.

If the district closes a school, where do the savings come from?

The savings mostly come from the positions the district no longer needs, like a principal, counselor, librarian, etc. Doll said some teachers could be cut because the district has room in some schools for students.

How much money did the district cut going into this school year? What got cut?

Board members have cut $2.5 million already. It included $320,000 at district headquarters by eliminating and consolidating positions and a $433,000 cut to custodial services. The district also stopped bus service for all students who live less than 2.5 miles from school, which saved $450,000.

What happens now?

Board members will conduct the second of four planned public forums about the budget at 7 p.m. Monday at Southwest Junior High School, 2511 Inverness Drive. Morgan said that at the Feb. 22 board meeting he will try to get board members to voice their opinions on what type of cuts they’re leaning toward so the public can then respond.

“There’s a lot of things we need to look at, but we need to start naming names and letting the community know where we’re actually going instead of where we might go,” Morgan said.


Richard Heckler 7 years, 11 months ago

USD 497 could sell the new property it bought recently and the USD 497 admin building. Then apply those funds to the news sports expenditure or fix the buildings that apparently were overlooked while spending on the sports project.

Move the admin into the virtual school building thus back into the community.

City Hall could step up with some assistance if those in city hall would do so.

For the future: a local source to help fund USD 497 medical insurance, salaries, and perhaps school fees. This could become available as a dedicated City of Lawrence USD 497 user fee:

leftylucky 7 years, 11 months ago

Our tax bill for USD 497 does not stipulate how much is for capital outlay and how much for school operation, it is just one amount. When the state legislature can steal 27 million dollars from the state water fund, then I think USD 497 can steal from their capital outlay fund. Difficult times demand difficult measures.

youngjayhawk 7 years, 11 months ago

Eliminate learning coaches, eliminate professional development, eliminate Wednesday collaboration, cut administration, and lengthen the school day & move to a 4-day week.

multiagelearner 7 years, 11 months ago

Increasing student/teacher ratio by one cuts 20 teachers across the board. I understand at New York that means going from 13 students in a class to 14, but in some schools that are full it pushes the class sizes to 30 or more.

Cut in programs: music, debate, fine arts and sports, every think about those students who find academic success because of those programs?

Increase student fees: yes, let the people who you blame, the west side people, subsidize the cost for the east side schools. Because the higher the free and reduced lunch number the fewer people paying fees.

News flash: some people will be losing their job! Not just being having to send their child to another school, but will be without a job. Think about how stressful the thought of not having a job in this economy is for those people!

kummerow 7 years, 11 months ago

The Save Our Neighborhood Schools Budget Plan will be on their website soon! Check their website for more information.

WilburM 7 years, 11 months ago

The short-term possibility of using capital outlay funds simply has to be pursued. This is a Topeka/state legislature issue, and a change (for say, three years) could be legislated in the next couple months, to allow districts to use capital funds. The amounts here are substantial, and if capital monies could be used in the short-to-medium term, we would be spared the gross anomalies of closing schools while building athletic palaces.

If the state is going to cut funding, we should at least be able to move funds around to the greatest advantage. This separation of capital and operating funds is not carved in stone. In the short run, it's bad policy, however useful it may be in principle.

Deb Engstrom 7 years, 11 months ago

"If a teacher can't handle three more kids in a classroom, they have no business being teachers"

Increasing the student-teacher ratio has a lot more implications and is a much more complex issue than just adding students to classrooms.

been_there 7 years, 11 months ago

"If the district closes a school, where do the savings come from? The savings mostly come from the positions the district no longer needs, like a principal, counselor, librarian, etc. Doll said some teachers could be cut because the district has room in some schools for students."

So the costs for running the building will still be there, and selling the building doesn't help the budget since they can't use the money. So the same result can be achieved by eliminating positions district wide.

volunteer 7 years, 11 months ago

It is hard for me to understand why something as popular with the general public as reducing central office Administrative positions would not be publicly announced the day after the Board meeting in which it occurred.

I am also puzzled that Rick Doll could not answer my question about central office savings during the online question answer session with this newspaper in the fall. The question was submitted a day in advance.

Now I see a figure..$320,000 in central office cuts already made,,,but no specifics.

I would, respectfully, like to know ...a)at which Board meeting was this $320,000 in central office savings accomplished b)which specific job titles were eliminated and c)which specific job titles were combined.

kugrad 7 years, 11 months ago

multiagelearner, Before you post, get your facts straight. Classes at New York won't have 13 or 14 students. Right now, the third grade is split for the first time in 7 or 8 years because thee are 32 students enrolled. Those same 32 will be a single fourth grade class next year. The third grade last year was 25-26 students depending on the time of the year. This made it one of the two largest third grades in the district. New York often has ONE grade level with a low class size, but the rest typically are consistent with the numbers elsewhere in the district. Keeping a school open does not mean that other class sizes will stay lower. Think it through - first off, the district may well increase ratio anyway, even if a school or two is closed. It isn't a trade off proposal - raise ratio or close schools. Second, the district has contingency teachers hired just for this purpose. If one class was exceptionally high at a school, the district could send one of these contingency teachers to that school. This is standard operating procedure. Third - the higher class sizes may well be at the secondary level, where they can deal with higher classes. Our high school class sizes are lower than our elementary, which is backwards from the way it should be. Finally, it is not inappropriate for classes fourth grade an up to have a higher size, such as 25-30 students. It may not be ideal, but research on class size (and yes, research does matter) shows clearly that class size effects go hand in hand with language development; so students who are below 10 years of age gain the most from small class size. It is worth noting that all class size research shows that small class size only produces benefits if maintained KG through 3rd grade. I don't think any school has done so, since the recommended size is 17-18. So we have already lost most of the value of small class size over the last few years as sizes have risen. No one should base their support for or against neighborhood schools based on class size. The outcome cannot be accurately predicted. You may close schools and find you have increased class size. The district may move school boundaries and you find higher class size. Or, it could go the other way. No one knows at present. We also don't know what enrollment will actually be at any given school until enrollment day. Recent Lawrence history shows us that when boundaries are changed people don't always go where they are supposed to go. They enroll where they want to and use other addresses, such as a friend or relative to do so. It has happened every single time boundaries have changed. Look deeper than class size for answers to these issues.

been_there 7 years, 11 months ago

"Some parents voiced concern over classes being too large if the district does not close any schools."

Sounds like "I'm more concerned about how it affects my kid than your kid". Who is to say that when the kids are divided up amongst schools, class sizes won't increase in some schools? It looked like closing Quail Run would save the most money. If it's all about saving money then let's put that one on the chopping block and see how it would affect their lives and how they would feel about it. There is something I am wondering about if someone knows the answer. Part of your property taxes goes to the school district. If someone doesn't pay their taxes, does the city give them that portion anyway? Because according to an article by the LJW, a lot of developers don't pay their taxes on new buildings until the property is sold even if it takes say three years. If they city has to give the money anyway, then that creates city budget problems and job losses. If the city doesn't have to give them the money, than developers are causing part of the school budge problems and we need to be more aggresive about collecting money from them by denying them building permits until back taxes are paid. So which is it?

jackson5 7 years, 11 months ago

Here is a painless cut: Stop paying for student materials out of the depleted general fund.

Simply use the student materials fees paid each year to buy student materials. In the 2009-2010 budget, the district budgeted more than $1M in student materials out of the general fund, rather than the student materials fund. Remember, the $4M deficit is to the general fund. But what did the district do? They budgeted to transfer $200,000 from the general fund into the Student Materials fund. Yes, they plan to reduce the general fund by another $200,000 to pad the Student materials savings account (with 6/30/09 balance of $1,381,277).

It is time to crack open the student materials piggybank.

Does your child have overcrowded classes? Ask the district to explain why they don't use student material fees next year to pay for student materials so that the general fund can go for teachers salaries.

Did your child go without paper this year? Ask the district if they are going to continue to scrimp on paper while collecting more student fees than they spend out of the student materials fund.

This suggestion is painless. No schools are closed, no teachers are fired, no students are redistricted. Why are we only being given bad choices and forced to fight among ourselves? Ask the board to protect teachers, students, and neighborhoods and get their bookkeeping in order.

multiagelearner 7 years, 11 months ago

kugrad: New York has several class sizes that are in line with district numbers, and more than just as many that are below the average. (check the district website) Langston Hughes as more students in it's first and second grades than New York has in the entire school. With that in mind, New York still has to pay a fulltime principal, counselor, janitor and food service staff. New York also is a Title building which means it has extra services, such as title reading, math and full day kindergarten.

And, in order to increase the class size by one student, there must be the students to add, but that is one thing that New York doesn't have.

Another school, Wakarusa Valley has 13 students in each of it's two first grades. According to district numbers (factual information) Sunflower has 25 students in it's first grade classrooms. 1 more student in 2 Wakarusa classrooms than Sunflower has in 1.

You are right, that the district will likely raise class sizes regardless of closing schools. BUT closing schools keeps other CORE programs that affect ALL students in place!

Remember, this is a district for ALL Lawrence kids, not just those who happen to live on the east side of town.

It is not east vs. west for some people, it is about the kids of Lawrence.

Jessica Beeson 7 years, 11 months ago

Programs are getting cut NO MATTER WHAT! Closing schools won't stop this from happening. Ask the superintendent yourself--I have.

multiagelearner 7 years, 11 months ago

Cordleymom, you are correct. Programs will be cut no matter what. Closing schools will keep many programs off the table. If you look at the budget and all proposals, not closing schools will create a huge hole in which programs such as fine arts, debate, sports, and music. Ask the superintendent how this district will look if he keeps the schools open- I have! And that is not a district that you will want your child to attend school in. There is more to school than elementary school. The junior highs and high schools will be dramatically different if your child has 30 kids in their classes K-6.

alm77 7 years, 11 months ago

I have a question. If a parent is concerned about class size couldn't they request their child be transferred to one of the schools with smaller class sizes? I know that would mean a little extra effort on the part of the parent in terms of transportation and schedule, but if it's a priority then I would think one would be willing to find a way to make it work. Would a number of transfers help this district situation at all? Just a thought.

kugrad 7 years, 11 months ago

Multiage, First of all, I am speaking of class size at New York year in and year out, a topic I am intimately familiar with. Also, some of the figures that have ben posted lately are projected enrollment, not actual enrollment. As NY is a Title Wide building. It recieves FEDERAL dollars that pay for those other positions. If it wasn't title-wide (if it were closed and the students dispersed to other schools) it is possible the district will actually lose federal dollars .

Now to address a couple of your specific issues. Regarding NY having no students to add - rememeber that this could easily be accomodated by adjusting the boundaries. Boundaries are what made the population small in the first place. This could be done without moving students from schools that are closer to them than NY since so many boundaries overlap. There could also be a voluntary transfer policy which some might accept due to NY's strong academic record. It is also worth noting that enrollment in KG is up 14% in East Lawrence neighborhoods, but down close to 1% in the West, so it is reasonable to assume that their are young familes in the area and future enrollment will continue the upward trend.

Next I'd like to address your argument about core programs being saved. I have attended the board study sessions and looked at the current proposals for program cuts. Most of these so far are not really core programs, so I can't be 100% sure what you are referring to, but let's treat the existing proposals as core programs. These cuts are going to occur whether they close an elementary or not. Count on it. Take it to the bank. It is a done deal. If it is on the study session list, consider it gone. It is easy to say that the cuts will affect all kids, although I'm not sure those proposed really do, but I have to ask this. Isn't that fair? Shouldn't all kids and all families at all levels from ECH to HS share in these budget cuts? Is it fair to target small schools in low SES neighborhoods? Honestly, I believe the cuts will be made whether schools are closed or not. What I don't believe is that an honest argument can be made that most of the proposed cuts affect all students. Some affect only jr. high, some only high school, some only elementary and so on. So the "all kids" argument doesn't have a basis in reality that I can see. It is not a close schools vs. program cuts scenario. That is a myth and a dangerous one at that. It draws attention from the other alternatives, many of which are listed in the actual article above. Bear in mind that the ratio could be increased only at the middle school or high school level, and they could more easily absorb increased class sizes in my opinion. There are options, but this isn't close small schools or lose core programs. It is possibly both, but not one vs. the other.

Thank you for a reasonable conversation devoid of insults and namecalling, much appreciated.

headdoctor 7 years, 11 months ago

Moderate (George Lippencott) says… see:

George, where did you come up with the idea that plugging your own blogs of drivel on other threads is acceptable? It is rude and at the very least tacky forum etiquette. Apparently with all you alleged training this is something you missed class on or willfully ignore. Most posters on LJW can find your blogs on their own if they want to read them or comment.

I am sure it hasn't crossed your mind that you would have more people posting on your blogs if you hadn't burnt your bridges. Notice that I am posting on this thread and not yours. A good discussion is one thing but people are tired of your whining and the attitude of I got mine so screw everyone else. Your debate tactics aren't any better such as moving the goal posts of discussion, setting up straw man arguments or going after a poster for saying something they didn't say is just a list to start with. In most cases you aren't really wanting to debate. You are just wanting to whine. Personally I am not interested and I think there are others who may feel the same way.

ResQd 7 years, 11 months ago

Maybe I've missed something, but has the school board looked at how other districts in Kansas are cutting back?

Frank Hays 7 years, 11 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.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.