Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories, looking ahead to 2010.
At the beginning of 2009, the Lawrence school district was about to start a search for a new superintendent. The deputy superintendent and chief operations officer had also announced their retirements. Getting the outdoor high school athletic facilities started and finished was a top priority.
A lot has changed as the district heads into 2010.
New Superintendent Rick Doll, who came to Lawrence from Louisburg, is leading the district and the board through a major financial crisis, one in which the district’s general fund budget has been cut 10 percent in just over a year.
While the board laid out about 10 goals at the beginning of the school year, the focus has been forced elsewhere.
“A lot of our emphasis has shifted to just trying to make the budget,” Doll said.
On that list of board goals, among other issues, are:
• Narrowing the achievement gap, which is the difference in test scores between majority and minority students.
• Reconfiguration, which centers on making the junior highs into middle schools.
• Increasing student achievement.
“We are trying not to let things like reconfiguration and achievement gap issues fall by the wayside, and I will assure our patrons that they’re not,” Doll said. “It’s just the budget is taking a lot of time.”
The budget presents the largest challenge and is also the No. 1 goal for the district and the board during the coming year.
“We’ve had this shift to how do we take what we thought was this year’s budget, subtract $3 million, and still do all the things that we need to do to meet some of those other goals,” chief operations officer Frank Harwood said.
Board president Scott Morgan says because of all the budget talk, lower morale of teachers and staff also is a top concern among district leaders.
“We keep talking about letting people go. We keep talking about reducing the number of teachers, closing schools,” Morgan said. “Those are challenges, but we’ve got to keep the spirits high or let them know how important they (teachers) are.”
Doll says the biggest challenge not related to the budget is the achievement gap.
“We need to analyze whether we have institutional barriers that are in place that are keeping our kids of color from achieving where they should,” Doll said. “That’s a huge challenge that we have to solve if we’re going to continue to raise our achievement scores.”
Morgan says despite the economic environment, the board will continue to work on the goals it laid out at the onset of the school year.
“All those things will still be happening,” Morgan said. “It’s just that it’ll be under the cloud of this budget nightmare we’re in.
“But this too shall pass.”