Over the last three years, the Lawrence school board has given more emphasis to athletics than to academics. Lawrence has fallen from 88th to 98th to 102nd place in teachers’ average salary and benefits compared to other Kansas school districts.
According to figures compiled by the Kansas Department of Education, Lawrence paid its teachers an average of $50,170 this year while the statewide average was $53,041. How are we going to retain outstanding teachers and attract the best qualified teachers when we offer such low salaries when compared to other districts? Shawnee Mission schools paid their teachers an average of $66,806, and Blue Valley schools paid an average of $61,133, which ranked first and second in the state. Olathe averaged $57,805 and was in the top ten districts.
During this period, Lawrence built two redundant sport stadia for its two high schools. Shawnee Mission has two sports stadia to serve five high schools. Blue Valley has two stadia for four schools, and Olathe has two stadia for four schools. These schools have their priorities correct. A teacher and soccer coach for the past 11 years in Lawrence announced in December that he is going to teach in Blue Valley next year, and he will be paid over $8,000 more than his current salary here.
The Lawrence school board authorized spending up to $12.1 million on athletic fields in October 2008. That same month, the stock market was down over 40 percent from one year earlier. Two of the five largest investment banks in the nation were no longer in existence, and we were in our worst recession in 70 years.
Supt. Randy Weseman, at an early December 2008 school board meeting, warned about the state shorting school districts on payments and that the potential for less base state aid was there.
Yet in April 2009, one month after the stock market was down more than 50 percent from its peak in October 2007, the school board expanded the total cost of the sports fields, restroom and locker room renovations to $18,944,521. This total includes $5.4 million left over from the 2005 bond funds and earned interest; capital leases of $9,050,000 plus interest of $2,494,521 to be paid; and $2,000,000 of capital outlay funds. I have to credit the school board for creative financing without letting the public vote on whether they approved of all the fields. The 2005 bond did not specify athletic fields, but it was to go for school improvements at the secondary level.
At the March 8, 2010, school board meeting, 51 administrative recommendations were made for budget savings. The only athletic item of these 51 recommendations was about moving ninth-grade athletics to the high school. On April 27, the board decided to move the ninth-grade athletics one year before any other ninth-grade programs would be moved to the high school.
How this move of ninth-grade athletics was going to save money is questionable since the April 29 Journal-World quotes Lawrence High athletic director Ron Commons as saying, “I’m not sure how much money’s going to be available to buy any new uniforms or equipment to make that move.”
In March, the Lawrence Journal World reported that ninth-graders were playing on the Free State girls’ basketball team, and the team had one coach and three assistant coaches. How many classroom teachers have three assistants? Last month, I asked an employee of the school administration if the school board was going to cut any assistant coaches like they were cutting 20-30 teacher contracts. I was told that assistant coaches were needed for safety reasons. I find it contradictory for them to bring up safety issues when the school board cut busing, thus allowing children to cross dangerous intersections without crossing guards. Also, the board is cutting school nurses which is another health and safety issue.
Why not involve more children in physical activities by having more after-school intramural games and less competition with other districts?
It is my sincere hope that more of the public will become involved and informed about school issues such as the recent Save Our Schools campaign.
— Dave Kyner is a Lawrence resident.