The Lawrence school district is on track to assemble an array of experts to provide advice in budgeting, facilities planning and possibly other complicated and far-reaching topics and issues that require spending money or otherwise allocating valuable resources and attention.
And, as school finances continue to dwindle, such consulting services won’t be expected to cost the district a penny.
“The school district is such an important part of what makes Lawrence, Lawrence,” said Keith Diaz Moore, a board member and advocate for boosting public involvement in the district’s decision-making deliberations. “I think people will be willing to volunteer and provide their expertise to help the district out in these times of need.”
The concept gained support as Diaz Moore and his fellow board members met for more than two hours Monday night to discuss their goals for the coming year. While the meeting covered strategies for closing achievement gaps and evaluating teachers and exploring curriculum options and other matters, several board members pushed for going outside the district payroll for help dealing with short-term complications and long-term visions.
Randy Masten suggested that the district create both a Budget Advisory Committee and a Facilities Advisory Committee. The two groups, made up of volunteers from Kansas University and the area business community, would support the daily efforts of district administrators.
“They’d provide sound advice or input or possibilities,” Masten said.
Mark Bradford, board president, cautioned that the committees could end up merely forming recommendations based on “philosophies,” such as setting budget levels for spending on overall construction projects or assigning certain percentages of budgets to contingency funds. Board members are elected to decide such matters, he said.
“I’d hate to put another layer in there,” Bradford said, noting decisions are made by a majority of the seven-member board. “It’s four votes.”
Rick Ingram, who received the most votes among four candidates in the board election in April, countered that the board could make its best decisions while contemplating a wide range of options, not simply those forwarded by administrators alone.
“If it’s one set of opinions, then we don’t even have a choice,” Ingram said.
Ingram indicated that he’d also like to consider expanding the district’s public-involvement processes to include at least two other advisory committees: one made up of students, and another made up of teachers.
“We could probably learn a lot from the people who are in the trenches,” said Ingram, who also wants to create Facebook pages and conduct digital surveys to foster “two-way communication” between the district and its patrons.
The board already has at least one volunteer group in place: The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group meets next week to start devising recommendations for consolidating a list of six elementary schools into three or four. That would fulfill the vision created by the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, which in February recommended pursuing consolidation and closing Wakarusa Valley School — two efforts endorsed by the school board that had four other members.
While current board members did not formally vote Monday on their goals for the coming year, such ideas for advisory committees and other input-oriented efforts drew consensus. Rick Doll, district superintendent, admitted that he’d entered the discussion with “some defensiveness,” a feeling that eased as he compiled the list of suggestions for helping, not hurting, district operations.
“I see a goal there,” he said.
Doll plans to compile suggested goals into a single document for discussion next month. Board members would be expected to approve the goals by the end of September.