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Archive for Sunday, February 28, 2010

Buying time

It’s OK for local school board members to look at some short-term solutions to the current budget crisis.

February 28, 2010

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Some of the budget-cutting suggestions from the Save Our Neighborhood Schools group deserve more serious consideration than they appear to be getting from the Lawrence school board.

Although SOS members say they have received a positive response to their ideas during individual meetings with most school board members, most of those ideas haven’t been included in the list of proposed cuts being formally discussed by the board. The current budget dilemma continues to be portrayed as a choice between closing schools and making drastic cuts in programs. The SOS group and other district patrons believe there are other choices, and it is the board’s responsibility to make sure those options are explored.

One example is the debate over the district’s fund for student materials. Student fees go into the fund to pay for textbooks, workbooks and other materials but those fees don’t cover those expenses so additional money is taken out of the general fund. Because the district currently has saved up almost $1.4 million in that fund, professional accountants who are members of SOS have suggested using only fee money to meet textbook and materials expenses rather than taking money from the general fund.

District administrators have dismissed this idea, saying that most of the $888,000 in the textbook fund is being saved to adopt a new elementary math book. There is, however, another $493,000 in the fund that might be tapped along with the funds that are transferred from the general fund.

District officials are right not to seek a fee increase for students and it’s understandable that they would be cautious about depleting this fund too much, but let’s think outside the box for a minute. Rather than taking money from the general fund this year, why not ask the Lawrence Schools Foundation to spearhead an effort to raise funds for school materials? Such a tangible request seems tailor-made to draw a significant community response.

If the district dug a little deeper in the fund and found it had to delay some purchases of curriculum and technology materials for a year, that still would be preferable to making hasty decisions to close schools for next year. Perhaps there are sound reasons to consider closing a building or two, but that decision should be made in conjunction with the larger reconfiguration plan board members already have approved to move sixth-graders to middle schools and ninth-graders to the district’s two high schools in the fall of 2011.

Once the effects of implementing that plan are analyzed, the board will be in a far better position to consider other changes in school boundaries and building use. Another lesson that should be obvious from the current debate is that the board and school administrators should actively involve community representatives on an advisory committee to help guide those decisions.

A number of other cost-cutting ideas, such as reducing course offerings at the high schools, also deserve board consideration. These ideas are coming from district patrons who have given the issue a lot of thought and deserve a place at the table.

Using short-term solutions to buy a little time is a valid strategy for board members to pursue in the current funding crunch. Drawing down a student materials fund or depending on charitable donations to fund materials purchases probably isn’t a sound long-term policy, but the current situation justifies looking at some stopgap measures.

Lawrence school board members face a difficult task. In some ways putting more creative solutions on the table makes that task more difficult, but giving those ideas serious consideration will produce a better result for the community.

Comments

George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Hydra (anonymous) says... Closing schools would lose teachers and raise class size

I am not so sure of that. Teachers along with students would be transferred. The resultant student load might on averge be higher but it also might be more consistent across schools

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nancyannhamilton 4 years, 1 month ago

re beobachter and PFC

$5,377 per pupil cost for each jr. high student.

$4,082 per pupil cost for each elementary school student.

$5,224 per pupil cost for each high school student.

PFC should have explained better. Next year there will be 732 6th graders. The per pupil cost for an elementary student is far higher than for an elementary student and a little higher than for a high school student. You can find these figures on the district's website. 6th graders are in elementary schools NOW. The district wants to move 6th grade to middle school. Ergo, it would cost an additional million (or nearly) dollars to educate the same kids in our jr. highs.

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paulette2 4 years, 1 month ago

ASHMOLE, Super said at Cordley that he doesn't make decisions -- that only the school board makes decisions and then he 'administrates'.

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beobachter 4 years, 1 month ago

PFC, nothing in your rant makes sense. "If those students are educated in elementary school, it will cost the district 3,935,964." This is here they are now "If they are educated in elementary schools (the way they are now), it will cost the district 2,988,024 (nearly 1 MILLION DOLLARS)" Point 1 How will it cost more to educate them the same as they are now? Point 2 Where do you get these figures? Point 3 How does 2,988,024 translate as nearly 1 million dollars? Calm down, take a deep breath and try re-posting.

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PFC 4 years, 1 month ago

BTW, I meant "Their math/reading" not "there." Also, please note that keeping 9th graders in with 7,8th graders actually hurts 7th and 8th graders because they are forced to adopt an 8 period class schedule to accommodate the demands of a group of high schoolers (9th graders). So, if you read what I am saying carefully, there is nothing being taken away. The point is to maintain and enhance what we already have and spend LESS to do it.

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PFC 4 years, 1 month ago

commuter. If you look statewide and compare different middle schools, there is NO advantage to transferring 6th graders to a middle school. There math/reading scores are virtually identical. I am not suggesting that we do away with middle school, but it would make sense to concentrate the spending on the age group where it does the most good, 7th and 8th graders. In the face of a budget crisis, why in the world would you go out of your way to INCREASE the cost of educating one group of kids.

Let me put some dollars out there. Next year, the district will have 732 6th graders. If those students are educated in elementary school, it will cost the district 3,935,964. If they are educated in elementary schools (the way they are now), it will cost the district 2,988,024 (nearly 1 MILLION DOLLARS). So, Moreover, if you move 9th graders to high school, you would save an additional 100K and change, because we spend LESS per pupil for high schoolers than middle schoolers. And, on top of that closing a middle school would save the district over 1 million dollars.

So, tell me again why we want to spend more per pupil without likelihood of improved educational outcomes and at the same time miss some low hanging fruit in terms of cost savings.

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Hydra 4 years, 1 month ago

Closing schools would lose teachers and raise class size. I still think it's better for the students to lose a bloated administrative staff. No one says firing administrators has to be short term. It would have the same effect on the budget next year and the year after!

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George Lippencott 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, with the latest revenue figures it would appear that there is no cavalry on the horizon - no new money - maybe less money! What does waiting buy?? We have to balance the budget. Firing people is just as final as closing schools!! Exactly what are we going to do to address the long-term loss of revenue??

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commuter 4 years, 1 month ago

PFC- yes it costs more to educate JR & High school kids. Why?? There arew more classes thet they take compared to elementary school kids. So it looks like you are suggesting that we go back to one science, one math, one english, etc classes at the JR & High schools. That makes a lot sense until members of the SONS group realizes that their kids will have less opportunity than previous kids. Oh yeah, you also need to get rids of all athletics, band, drama etc since there is not those extracurricular activities at the elementary schools.

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PFC 4 years, 1 month ago

Re above. My point is that if you are going to close a school, Jr highs need to be on the table. With 1300 empty spaces (assuming you move 9th graders and not 6th graders), and higher per pupil costs, they are much more inefficient than any of our grade schools.

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PFC 4 years, 1 month ago

As far as I know the board did NOT decide to adopt the school reconfiguration plan. In fact, they voted to "Table" this discussion until a later date. However, discussion about budget cuts continues to include planning time for reconfiguration. This is fundamentally dishonest.

If school closure is on the table, all schools should be considered for closure. The board has explicitly tied moving 9th graders to moving 6th graders. There is no reason for doing both except that moving 6th graders protects the enrollment of Jr Highs. If 9th graders are moved to high schools and 6th graders remain in elementary schools, then there would be 1300 empty spaces at our 4 junior highs. If the board is truly concerned about costs, then they should be cognizant that it is more cost effective to keep 6th graders in elementary schools. Educating the same 6th grader in elementary school costs LESS (in per pupil dollars) than educating him or her in a Jr High/middle school.

Something is very fishy about this school board. Their decisions make no sense.

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ashmole 4 years, 1 month ago

Right on. The school board needs to consider SOS ideas seriously, especially as our superintendant is not the sharpest tack around.

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Hydra 4 years, 1 month ago

Who says every dime budgeted is spent? I remember back in 92 when Eudora was budgeting 50,000.00 for a 2,000. expense.

Has any thing really changed or is Lawrence any different?

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