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Archive for Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lawrence school board candidates share budget-cutting approaches at forum

From left, Jim Clark, Ola Faucher, Shannon Kimball, Randy Masten, Marlene Merrill, Keith Diaz Moore, Tyler Palmer and Bill Roth participate in a Voter Education Coalition forum for Lawrence school board candidates Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

From left, Jim Clark, Ola Faucher, Shannon Kimball, Randy Masten, Marlene Merrill, Keith Diaz Moore, Tyler Palmer and Bill Roth participate in a Voter Education Coalition forum for Lawrence school board candidates Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

March 23, 2011

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Three questions for Lawrence school board candidates

Ola Faucher is seeking a seat on the Lawrence school board. In this video, the director of human resources and equal opportunity at Kansas University answers three questions about her campaign.

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Candidates running for seats on the Lawrence school board understand that next year’s anticipated $3 million budget hole could grower wider and deeper in the years ahead for the Lawrence school district.

And while they agree that protecting classroom instruction should be the most important consideration in making budget cuts, participants in a candidate forum Tuesday night outlined some differences in their financial approaches.

Eight of the campaign’s nine active candidates participated in the forum at City Hall, an event organized by the Voter Education Coalition. Rick Ingram, a candidate who is a professor of psychology at Kansas University, did not attend.

The general election is April 5.

Marlene Merrill, a retired educator and the board’s lone incumbent to seek re-election, noted that the district already had been forced to cut $12 million during the past four years. The “most important thing” in cutting another $3 million for this coming year, she said, would be “to safeguard classroom instruction.”

That would leave three options for cuts, she said:

• Close schools.

• Increase class sizes.

• Make cuts to “everything else,” including counselors, food service and other programs.

“We have 15 elementaries, and we cannot financially support that number of elementary schools,” Merrill said. “Something else gets sacrificed if we keep all 15 of those schools.”

Shannon Kimball, an attorney taking a break from work to be a stay-at-home mom, expressed frustration with the latest news out of Topeka: Legislators are pursuing plans to cut the amount of state base aid per pupil to within $10 of the rate that had been paid to districts in 1999.

“We’re trying to provide a 2011 education on 1999 dollars,” Kimball said. “We’re going to have to look across the board, at all areas, to try to find efficiencies and protect classroom instruction as much as possible.”

Ola Faucher, director of human resources and equal opportunity at KU, said that work of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force “should be reviewed and mined for” money-saving opportunities and that the board should pursue a “parallel process” for examining expenses throughout the district.

Faucher noted that KU had properly focused much of its own latest round of cuts on administration, as a way to put the “educational mission of the university” above other concerns.

“That’s a lesson learned for me,” Faucher said.

Randy Masten, a retired U.S. Army officer, said that the task force had provided a “good start,” but emphasized that the overall community would need more information so that it could provide meaningful input on budget decisions.

“We’ve got to have more transparency,” Masten said.

Keith Diaz Moore, an associate professor of architecture, design and planning at KU, said he had benchmarked the Lawrence district’s expenditures against others and found that overall administrative costs, transportation costs and food-service expenses to be “a little high.”

He wants the district to form a budget advisory committee, one comprised of businesspeople willing to volunteer their expertise to help guide budget decisions.

“It’s imperative to put your goals first,” Diaz Moore said. “You have to protect the core academic mission. Classroom cuts have to come last.”

Tyler Palmer, a senior network engineer at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said the board first needed to “have a conversation with the community” about the district’s priorities for education before making decisions about cuts.

Bill Roth, a retired engineer, agreed that planning needed to come first. Up second: Look into spending up to $9 million of the $14 million, he said, that the district has available in contingency funds.

Third: Ask every school and every division — from administration to maintenance — to submit budgets that would be cut by 2.5 percent from this year’s levels.

“I’d like to see a bottom-up approach, instead of top-down direction,” Roth said.

Jim Clark, staff attorney for the state’s Health Care Stabilization Fund, did not indicate areas he would examine for cuts, instead noting that the district should invest in all-day kindergarten.

Comments

independent_rebel 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd like to see administrators take a pay cut. I'd like to see buildings that house administrators sold/consolidated. I'd like to see how much money we spend on "free stuff" handed out to students (such as meals, transportation, free or reduced fees), if any, that is not mandated by law, and wipe it out. Especially for illegals. I have no sympathy for the arguement that it's not the kids' fault, because I do understand it's the parents' fault...and it's the parents who need to pay up and stop "working the system."

What the heck are they spending money on? Every music and sports program has fundraisers to pay for items the school district can't afford. They've turned our grade-school kids into little Amway salespersons. Book fairs, bake fairs, etc., all saying the school is broke. Where is the money going? Teachers tell us they have to pay out of their own pockets for basic supplies. What is the school district doing with our money?

MusicMama 3 years, 9 months ago

Not that I disagree with everything you posted but I do disagree with the comment that "every music and sports program has fundraisers to pay for items that the school district can't afford." Not EVERY music and sports person/teacher feels it is right to "pimp out" their students to raise money for their program(s). It is unfair of you to make a generalized comment like that without, first, doing your research to see if said "statistic" is accurate. Many teachers feel that the students are already asked, too often, to "sell stuff" because of PTA/PTO fundraisers and, therefore, will not conduct fundraiser events that directly effect their program. The moneys that are raised by PTO/PTA fundraisers/booksales do not go directly into one program's budget. The money raised goes into a "pot" that the PTO/PTA can distribute as it sees fit (e.g. playground equipment, yearbooks for students who cannot afford them, etc.) therefore, teachers do spend their own money on supplies for their individual classrooms. With all that being said, I completely agree that the district's spending needs to be more carefully examined; however, I disagree that assumptions about where money is going should be perpetuated without some kind of statistical analysis being presented to substantiate the assumption.

GardenMomma 3 years, 9 months ago

Hmmm, it's been a while, but the last time I bought cookies at McD's they were three for a dollar.

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