Lawrence school board members on Monday night cut $3.2 million from the district’s budget — more than half of what they need to make up a $5 million budget shortfall.
But they will return to the table at 7 p.m. tonight to discuss the controversial measures of raising the student-teacher ratio and even closing elementary schools to make up the rest.
“We made it a long ways, but we obviously have a some very important issues left to talk about,” school board President Scott Morgan said. “We’ve still got to come up with about $2 million.”
They worked for nearly four hours Monday night, talking line-by-line through lists of proposed school program and other cuts, plus a list of suggestions largely from community members who don’t want the district to close any elementary schools.
Because of the state’s budget crisis and higher health insurance costs, district leaders need to cut $5 million for next school year.
From their list Monday night, board members cut $457,000 in district administration costs, with another $100,000 in administrative salary reductions.
Other cuts included $294,992 to stop sixth-grade instrumental music, meaning band and orchestra would begin in seventh grade. Board members also cut teacher support through all of the district’s learning coach positions — except for the ones that receive federal funding — to save $420,000. Administrators had suggested cutting only three full-time positions, but board members went deeper.
School nursing positions and most guidance counselor positions survived.
Points of contention
Several divisions on the board developed during the discussion, including whether members were targeting some programs too much and others not enough.
“It seems like we should be looking deeper into athletics, because we are looking pretty deep, in my opinion, in terms of cutting some of the fine arts,” board member Marlene Merrill said.
The discussion also went into detail on the basic workings of the district, such as whether the board should look at having elementary principals cover two schools or take on added support duties in a school, like counseling. The board rejected that idea, but at least four members supported $102,597 in reductions to secondary school administration.
Morgan objected to the sixth-grade band cut.
“I know times are lean, but I’m just trying to protect the programs that help the most kids,” Morgan said.
To be continued...
Because Monday’s budget discussion didn’t end until nearly 11 p.m., board members agreed to recess the meeting until 7 p.m. tonight at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. They will discuss raising the student-teacher ratio and closing schools before they hear public comment on the budget.
The district would save about $1 million and cut about 20 teaching jobs each time it increased the student-teacher ratio by one student. This would also create larger class sizes.
The district would save about $400,000 to $600,000 for each elementary school that was closed.
Board member Vanessa Sanburn, though, wanted the district to look more at some program cuts and creative savings proposed by the group Save Our Neighborhood Schools. A majority of board members rejected the group’s main proposal to spend money on student materials directly from a fee-funded account instead of the district’s general fund.
“I think we’re talking about class-size increases and closing schools. I think going down that path is something that is really hard for me,” Sanburn said.
Alee Phillips, of Save Our Neighborhood Schools, said she wanted board members to get to a higher number than they did before they started talking about closing schools or increasing the student-teacher ratio.
She also believes board members misunderstood the group’s student materials spending proposal, so group members will try to talk to some board members again before today’s meeting.
“I think we really haven’t had the discussion about how bad the schools closures are for the educational and academic environment for our kids,” Phillips said.