The Lawrence school district is heading into the new year with plenty of institutional learning expected to come:
• How or when to consolidate its roster of elementary schools.
• What upgrades or expansions should be slated for remaining elementary schools and perhaps whether a new school or schools should be built.
• How to pay for such projects and everything else — teacher salaries, program expansions and more — in a district that has endured budgets cuts from the state during the past three years.
All while Gov. Sam Brownback takes a new school-finance formula to the Kansas Legislature for consideration, a financing plan billed as offering schools districts more flexibility but feared by some as an method for the state to cut its financial responsibilities.
Talk about a complicated assignment.
“There’s a lot of potential for a lot of change,” said Vanessa Sanburn, vice president of the Lawrence school board.
To address such issues and continue striving to provide the best education for students, district leaders plan to remain focused on a list of goals established earlier this year. The list includes items in three categories:
• Raise achievement for all students.
• Close achievement gaps.
• Engage the community.
Such goals may be broad and their reach extensive, but district leaders know they’ll once again be addressing them while operating under mounting financial pressures after cuts of $3 million and $3.4 million, for example, during each of the past two years.
“In the big picture, we have the continuing challenge of limited resources and increasing needs,” Rick Doll, district superintendent, said.
To help make the most of its relatively scarce revenues, the district plans to pursue creating a Budget Advisory Committee, one whose members will be expected to include interested and educated professionals and others. The group will be tasked with advising both district administrators and board members, the folks responsible for seeing that the district’s limited resources are spent as effectively as possible.
In January, board members are scheduled to receive recommendations from the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, an advisory panel formed earlier this year to study how to shrink a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — by two or three within the next few years.
That group’s work, if embraced by the school board, could lead to formation of a package of renovations, expansions and even new construction projects designed to accommodate the district’s overall elementary needs in all remaining schools. Closing one school, for example, could mean adding more classrooms somewhere else; other schools could need new cafeterias, expanded libraries or other physical resources to meet both basic needs and equity demands.
Such projects would need financing, of course, and the working group’s recommendations are being formed under the assumption that the board would propose a bond issue to address elementary needs districtwide. The working group also has been told to make recommendations under the assumption that voters would approve such a bond issue.
Sanburn said that any plan taken to voters would need to provide:
• The best way for using the district’s money most efficiently, showing that the board is serving as a good steward of the public’s willingness to invest.
• Additional programs and services for students — such as full-time social workers, counselors, librarians or other personnel and services — so that students can be at their best.
“We have to satisfy both of those,” Sanburn said.