Archive for Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some city leaders against school closings

Board discusses options with local governments

City and county education officials came together at a meeting Tuesday to talk about how education cuts could affect Lawrence.

February 17, 2010

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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.

At least two city commissioners voiced concerns Tuesday to Lawrence school board members about closing elementary schools, a possibility that is on the table as part of the district’s budget crisis.

“My concern here has to do with the fact that these schools, these buildings, are important to the neighborhoods they are in,” said Mike Amyx, a city commissioner.

But during the joint local government session, city and county commissioners mainly asked school board members about the choices they face as the district plans to cut $5 million before next school year because of the dramatic reduction in state aid and rising insurance costs. Commissioners also said board members have a difficult task.

Other than closing schools, board members are weighing a $3 million list that includes cuts to administration, positions such as nurses, counselors and librarians, and school programs. They have also discussed shifting school boundaries to fill up certain school buildings.

Increasing the student-teacher ratio is on the table as well. It would save roughly $1 million at each increase of one student and cut about 20 teaching positions.

City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said that as the economy begins to turn around, board members may want to be careful not to “make changes on a permanent basis when we have a temporary funding gap.”

Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator, said a recovery would likely affect the school district more slowly than the city and county because school funding is more reliant on property taxes.

Nancy Thellman, a county commissioner, asked how board members were engaging with community groups that provide budget recommendations. One group, Save Our Neighborhood Schools, has a proposal to save $5 million — without closing schools — through accounting efficiencies and other changes such as reducing the number of administrators at the high schools.

Scott Morgan, the school board’s president, said he has asked administrators to evaluate the plan and tell board members “why it would or would not work.”

Board member Marlene Merrill said the board is already considering some aspects of the group’s plan, such as reorganizing school administrators, and that it has accepted suggestions, such as pursuing private fundraising.

She also said not all of the group’s recommendations are possible under the district’s budget rules. For instance, administrators say the district can save $223,000 if it stops absorbing administrative costs to assist the Lawrence Virtual School, but the Save Our Neighborhood Schools proposal estimates a much higher savings.

In response to a question from Amyx about the district’s 2003 elementary school closings, Morgan and Mary Loveland — who both lost their re-election bids after that move, before returning to the board in 2007 — said they believed that decision created more efficiencies in the district.

After the meeting, Amyx said that as board members wrestle with current cuts, they appear to be investigating how the 2003 closings affected Lawrence and the district.

“History shows us a lot of things,” Amyx said, “and I think the current board has taken that very seriously.”

During the City Commission meeting later, Cromwell and Amyx requested that next week commissioners discuss whether to send a letter to the school district about the importance of neighborhood schools.

— reporter Chad Lawhorn contributed information to this story.

Comments

kummerow 5 years, 4 months ago

See the Save Our Neighborhood Schools budget proposal that was sent to the School Board at:

www.saveourneighborhoodschools.com/budget-outline/

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

An interesting document outlining "administrative services expenditures" some of which need explaining: http://www.saveourneighborhoodschools.com/documents/

Ann Hamil 5 years, 4 months ago

Don't cut any administrators as long as they are willing to take a 10-15% Salary cut for those that make over 100K and a 5% cut for those that make over 50k (not including the cost of health insurance). Building level administrators do the really vital work, but they should all be required to teach (and prep) at least one class (secondary) or a reading or math group (elementary) so that they are better connected to the needs of the students and the ever changing day to day teaching load.
Quite honestly we don't need all that staff development--let us use the time to actually do our jobs and teach! I can only speak for myself, but most staff dev time does not help me to be a better teacher--we spend a bunch of time doing silly things (things we did in undergrad and graduate school), filling out surveys, generating data that justify district level administrator's jobs. And again I can only speak for myself, but the learning coach type positions have never benefited me or my students in any meaningful way I can think of. I am perfectly capable of looking at formative and even summative test data on my own without someone spoon feeding it to me and telling me the obvious. You can have lead teachers (who actually teach but have an extra plan time) fill the role of learning coaches--for a lot less. Especially if you don't take them out of the building all the time--have district level admin come to each building for smaller meetings, and have big group meetings less often.

Kontum1972 5 years, 4 months ago

SO WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THIS LOTTERY MONEY THAT WAS SUPPOSE TO AID IN SCHOOLS? MB MORE IS BEING USED FOR ADVERTISING IN THE MEDIA .... WHERE DID THE BUCK STOP?

logical_parent 5 years, 4 months ago

Imagine if all the lottery funds, passed by voters originally to fund education, had not been reallocated by our legislature for other purposes! Regardless, our district has enough "unencumbered funds," combined with funds allocated for "other expenses" and "misc. expenses" to weather the present storm, but for unexplained reasons has chosen not to. Why no explanations? Why not just release these rainy day funds? Quit complaining about the rain and spend the money! It's raining!! Additionally, a small tax on something that effects a large portion of the populous, thus impacting large numbers in a small way, but earmarked solely for education, is in order. The legislature should move immediately to do this. The legislature could also amend the Capital Outlay Funds statutes to allow for expenditures of these funds for operating expenses in "extraordinary budgetary circumstances," such as we presently have. Our district is flush in that account, especially if the liquidate the $1.7M land purchase they made irresponsibly in Nov. '09. Why hasn't our SB joined with all similarly situated to lobby our legislators to do just this? Why haven't our legislators done this on their own?

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Well, I hope our city law givers are bringing gifts to our school law givers. It would be a shame if all the city does is lobby to please the mob demanding their way at the expense of the rest of us. Ah, yes get those administrators - they are tempting targets!! But then maybe they actually do something and if we get rid of them the teachers will have to do it. Yes, freeze the teacher’s pay and add workload - how Lawrence!!

kjh 5 years, 4 months ago

Moderate - is there a point to your rant? The "mob" is simply asking those spending the money to be accountable and responsible in doing so. Would you prefer that no one ever asks the hard questions, even when there are millions of dollars and thousands of children involved?

Stephen Roberts 5 years, 4 months ago

If the city commission so concerned, what are their suggestions?? Are they going to giv ethe district any money??? Is the district paying any expenses that the city/county should pay???

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

kjh (anonymous) says...

Mam/Sir: I honestly do not understand your post???

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

swan_diver (anonymous) and Hydra (anonymous) says.

New guy on the block here. Where does this come from? Has our school board been negligent

Frank Hays 5 years, 4 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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