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Archive for Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lawrence school board says budget cuts set for now, but more may loom

May 5, 2011

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Members of the Lawrence school board don’t intend to boost class sizes districtwide, or to cut entire sports programs, or to eliminate jobs for guidance counselors, school nurses or attendance secretaries.

At least not yet.

As plans for next year’s Lawrence school district budget take shape, virtually all of this year’s job positions, programs and services are set to continue.

But board members and administrators acknowledge that while an already-agreed-upon list of $3 million in cuts and spending adjustments should be enough to cover an expected $3 million drop in financing from the state, the district still may find itself dealing with some increased expenses.

And for that, there essentially would be two options: Find relief by digging deeper into savings accounts, or inflict pain by extending cuts into personnel, programs and other expenses.

Either way, balancing the books looks to remain a work in progress as teacher negotiations continue and competition for scarce state revenues endures.

“It’s going to get a whole lot more complicated,” said Vanessa Sanburn, one of three board members who will remain in office in July, when four members elected April 5 take office and consider approving next year’s budget. “There’s a lot of things on the list that I don’t want to have to make cuts in. …

“None of them are easy.”

Negotiations continue

Among the biggest uncertainties already being discussed by the current board, but sure to be addressed formally by the next one: a request from teachers for at least $1.3 million in raises, which would be equal to $1,500 per licensed educator districtwide.

The request has been made during negotiations for a new master agreement, but those negotiations won’t be expected to close for weeks or even months. District negotiators have yet to respond to the Lawrence Education Association’s wage request, and the union has yet to propose expected increases in fringe benefits, such as health insurance.

But one thing is certain: District administrators must offer contracts to educators and administrators no later than May 20, and board members already have agreed not to cut more teachers or increase class sizes any further to save more money.

That essentially leaves the board with a list of 17 potential additional cuts that, together, could be expected to amount to $490,000 — on average, less than $29,000 per item.

Among the potential moves:

• Cut $57,975 by eliminating the half-time positions for attendance secretaries in next year’s middle schools, jobs that had been full-time a year ago.

• Cut $24,030, by eliminating eight positions for assistant coaches at high schools.

• Save $12,969 by eliminating positions of cheerleading coaches in middle schools, eliminating the programs.

• Generate another $50,000 by increasing district pay-to-play fees for sports and cocurricular activities, such as debate and forensics, from $50 to $75.

• Save a total of $45,316 by eliminating coaching positions for bowling, golf, gymnastics and swimming and diving, which would end each of the programs.

• Save money by reducing the number of school nurses, who cost the district an average of $55,056, with health office assistants, who average $22,353.

Spend more, save less

Bob Byers, another board member who will remain in office when next year’s budget is approved and enacted, doesn’t plan on making further cuts to such programs for the coming year.

The board already has agreed to close Wakarusa Valley School — estimated savings: $487,508 — to go along with using contingency funds, other cash balances and operational changes to come up with $3 million in savings.

Money needed to cover more cuts or added expenses would need to come from savings, Byers said, because it’s effectively too late to consider elimination of positions for teachers, guidance counselors and others.

“When you move all the big-dollar items off the plate, then all the smaller ones — there just aren’t enough of them left to make up for major funding issues,” Byers said. “Teacher salaries and other things — none of those things facing us, from a funding standpoint, are small-ticket items. They’re all huge ones.”

The district has $6.8 million in its contingency fund, and the plan for next year already calls for using $750,000 to help make up for the expected cut in state financing. Bumping that number higher would leave less money available to the district in future years, Byers said, and therefore would pump up pressure to consolidate schools.

The board agreed last week to form a working group of volunteers whose task will be coming up with a recommended plan for reducing the district’s number of elementary schools from 14 to either 11 or 12. An earlier task force had identified six candidates to be considered for consolidation, and the working group — to be appointed by July 1 — will be instructed to devise plans for combining Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools in central Lawrence, as well as Cordley, Kennedy and New York in eastern Lawrence.

Consolidating would be expected to require money from a bond issue, one that is yet to be formulated and proposed, much less approved.

But Byers is certain that the coming years’ challenges will require that the district come up with efficient buildings, or else teachers and programs in schools — resources directly related to the education of students — inevitably will move closer to being cut, all to balance an operational budget that shows little chance of expanding.

“It’s money we don’t have,” Byers said.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 7 months ago

This is great news. It means that the school districts are ready to do their part to help fund more tax breaks for the Koch brothers. Just think of all the jobs that will be created by eliminating all of these jobs. Sure, they'll mostly be in China, but a job is a job, right? And do kids really need nurses?

jafs 3 years, 7 months ago

If consolidation requires a new bond issue, how is it saving any money?

Cogito_Ergo_Es 3 years, 7 months ago

The savings comes from the district's operational fund side. Having one less principal, one less nurse, 2 less custodians, 2 less lunch staff, etc. Yes, the bond issue is money raised that goes into the capital fund for construction or renovation of one bigger building for 300-450 children to attend. It saves the district operational funds, however it doesn't save YOU, the taxpayer, any money at all.

Synjyn Smythe 3 years, 7 months ago

The school board must "play the hand they've been dealt." However, they have now successfully drawn to and filled an inside straight flush! A bill presently pending in the Kansas Legislature, which will be up for final approval today, includes a plan by Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican, that would allow schools to access capital outlay funds and "divert money from capital projects to utilities and insurance expenses for one year." (http://www.kansascity.com/2011/05/04/2850650/kansas-schools-poised-to-get-funding.html) USD 497's capital outlay funds runneth over! If this bill becomes law, there is no longer any need to close any schools!!!!!!! Now, let's insist that our myopic school board to sit tight, see if this bill becomes law, then move forward with a new school board making the decisions!!!!!

notanota 3 years, 7 months ago

It's only a continuation of the layoffs they've already begun. Don't worry, the Kochs made more money than ever while they laid off workers.

ECM 3 years, 7 months ago

Wow no cuts at the district office how convenient.

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

Byers can personally afford to waffle....given his $60,134.81+ salary with SRS and the "fringe" little pockets he gets. (See http://www.kansasopengov.org/StateGovernment/SGPayGrid/tabid/1553/Default.aspx ).

This "incumbant" learned how to me a member of the gravy train long ago. Just exactly WHAT does this rube do for SRS to merit $60,134.81+ per year?

Dave Trabert 3 years, 7 months ago

Someone who retires from SRS at age 65 with 35 years' service and had Final Average Salary of $60,000 would receive $36,750 in annual pension and about $18,500 in Social Security. Of course, there is no state income tax on KPERS benefits so this individual would have about the same net income in retirement as they did when working.

Not saying this is what Byers would get...don't know how many years service he has, how much longer he plans to work or how much his pay would increase over that time. These calculations are for someone retiring next year under the above circumstances.

notanota 3 years, 7 months ago

KPERS is taxed by the state as you pay it. It's like a Roth IRA only on the state level, and you still have to pay federal taxes on the benefits. State taxes don't really save that much, since we don't really tax income that much in this state, no matter what the Koch-bias is on the issue.

It would be nice if you'd just say this automatically instead of leaving it as a comment someone else has to make for you every single time.

Clevercowgirl 3 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Byers volunteers his time, and is not on the district payroll. Personally, I feel that there are many points of his that I take issue with currently. However, flaunting and dissecting his private salary and benefits, is not where we should go. I am concerned and dissapointed that he seemingly has agreed to the flawed, and innacurately portrayed task force recommendation. There seems to be a deal for everyone, as this farce is being unanimousely carried onward. I still want to know where all of this extra money for the sports complexes is coming from. And why they purposely overcrowded LHS. Oh, I know, the land out east. Look for a harder sell of Morgan and Doll's agenda.

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