District exploring options to bridge $4M gap

How much money can be saved if the district increases its student-teacher ratio by one student? How much does it cost to run each elementary school?

The answers to those questions — and many more — will be provided to the Lawrence school board at a study session Monday afternoon. The information will help the board make decisions on how to fill a $4 million budgetary gap heading into the 2010-11 school year.

“It (Monday) will be the first opportunity for the board as a whole to receive all the possibilities as to where we can find $4 million,” board President Scott Morgan said. “That’s going to be a long laundry list.”

Two ways to save large chunks of money are placing more students in each classroom and closing schools.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that … every class in the district gets one more kid. It’s actually impossible to implement it that way,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “We have looked at other issues that don’t generate as much savings but are still important.”

Those other measures include administrative costs, district office costs, transportation, custodial maintenance and food service.

“These are fairly desperate times, and so we’re looking at some pretty desperate measures,” Morgan said.

On top of having to cut $4 million for next school year, the board also had to find the money for a $3 million mid-year cut announced by the state in December. The board used $1 million from the district’s contingency fund; $1 million in carryover funds; and $500,000 in other frozen budgets. But board members still need to find $500,000 by the end of the fiscal year in June.

“Those are primarily going to come from jobs, either unfilled jobs that people have left or actual pink slips where we let people go this semester who are not under contract,” Morgan said.

And while the board has until July 1 to find the $4 million in cuts, Morgan hopes the board can get it done as soon as possible.

“My hope is to do this within the next two months so if we are, and we will be, letting teachers go, that we give them as much notice as possible so they can look for jobs elsewhere,” Morgan said. “And if we’re closing schools, then we tell families as early as possible so they can start adjusting to that reality.”

Adding to budget woes, the state announced last week that payments to Kansas school districts totaling $200 million would be late for a third consecutive month.

“It sure appears that we always have to have enough to make payroll because this is becoming a monthly occurrence,” Doll said. Lawrence’s monthly payroll is about $5.5 million. “It’s not just a couple days late. Sometimes now it’s weeks late. We sure want to pay our people on time.”

Neither Morgan or Doll is expecting the board to make any final decisions about cuts during Monday’s meeting, but cuts are inevitable.

“It’s not choosing between do we close a school or not close a school,” Morgan said. “It’s between do we close a school or do we fire this many teachers or do we get rid of this many activities. … There’s a lot of bad things that we will be choosing from.”

The board’s study session will be from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday. The regular meeting starts at 7 p.m.