Lawrence school district expects to fill its $3 million budget hole for next year without laying off a single teacher or eliminating a single program.
District administrators are making preliminary plans to tap into contingency funds, absorb a diploma-completion program, extend a cut to “non-wage” budgets, maximize bulk purchases and trim a single teaching position from the expanding staffs at each of the high schools.
That — plus closing Wakarusa Valley School at the end of this school year — would be expected to put the district on track to account for all but an estimated $113,000 in projected cuts, a total that administrators figure they might be able to cover by dropping some assistant coaches and trimming finances for other extracurricular activities.
That’s the preliminary take, anyway.
“I don’t want to say it’s a Band-Aid approach, but it’s a method by which we can meet the reduction and not have a significant effect on programs,” said Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Mark Bradford, a member of the Lawrence school board, who is in line to become the board’s president in July. “I think it’s a reasonable plan right now.”
The district expects to start the 2011-12 school year with $3.015 million less than it opened this academic year with, at least when it comes to base state aid per pupil. That’s the money that continues to be cut by the Kansas Legislature as the state continues to grapple with budget problems of its own.
To make ends meet, the district would tap:
• $750,000 from the district’s $6.8 million in contingency funds.
• $750,000 from budget credits — that’s revenue from gym rentals, Medicaid reimbursements and other sources — and leftover, unspent money from other funds throughout the district.
• $512,000 by imposing a 25 percent cut in non-wage budgets, such as those for buying paper, financing professional development activities and handling expenses at each individual school.
• $487,000 by closing Wakarusa Valley School, a decision the board approved Monday night.
• $215,000 by taking over the Lawrence diploma completion program, folding the operation now run by private contractors into the district’s existing administration.
• $106,413 from eliminating two teaching positions, one at each high school. The plan would be to leave one position open at each school, as the district fills teaching slots for the arrival of ninth-graders on campuses this fall. Officials say that because ninth-graders will be going from four schools to two, there would be less need for the two positions.
• $100,000 by “maximizing” bulk purchases, such as for paper towels, toilet paper and some food service items.
The remaining $113,000 in cuts remain unidentified, but administrators said they would be able to bring forward some recommendations in the coming weeks.
Board member Bob Byers welcomes the budget information, but remains firm in his beliefs that the plan wouldn’t be enough, even though projections would put the district an estimated $18,000 in the black.
“It’s a good preliminary skeleton, but it really doesn’t have a lot of meat on it,” Byers said.
Byers would prefer to close two more elementary schools for next year: Cordley and then either Hillcrest or Sunset Hill schools. There’s room to close those schools and still not produce overcrowding in the district, he said, and the closures would prevent the need to make expensive renovations or upgrades to make them work.
Spending contingency and other “one-time” funds, he said, simply puts off the inevitable.
“Folks, put on your big-boy pants and let’s make the decisions we need to make,” said Byers, who has two years remaining on his term. “We need to close schools and restructure, and we need to update some schools. But we don’t want to update any schools that we know we’re going to close.”
Vanessa Sanburn, who also has two more years on her board term, would prefer to keep the other schools open until they can be considered as part of a longer-term plan for consolidations and upgrades. Spending contingency money now to get there makes sense.
“You have in your mind that you’re saving and you’re saving and you’re saving, and now you want to spend?” Sanburn said. “Well, now I do think it’s the time.”