Archive for Monday, April 23, 2012

Lawrence school board votes to extend all-day kindergarten, reduce class sizes, hire more teachers

April 23, 2012


Members of the Lawrence School Board found themselves in a position they hadn’t been in for several years Monday night. In three consecutive motions, they added nearly $2 million worth of programs and teachers back into the budget.

In unanimous decisions, the school board voted to:

l Extend the full-day kindergarten program to the final four elementary schools in the district that didn’t already have the all-day program in place. The addition would cost $527,000.

l Lower class sizes in elementary and middle schools by one student, which would add 21 teachers to the district and cost $1.1 million. In the same motion, the board also approved reinstating the district’s director of instruction, a position that had been cut, for $92,000.

l Introduce a program to the high schools that would help middle-of-the-road students and potentially first-generation college students pursue higher education. The program costs about $65,000 a year.  

“Extremely fun and much more entertaining,” school board vice president Vanessa Sanburn said of the chance to get to add, not cut, programs to the district’s budget.

Over the last several years, the district has had to make difficult cuts to the budget as funding from the state dropped.

While Superintendent Rick Doll said he was glad to see major programs added for the first time in his three years with the district, he warned the board that current state funding levels would make it impossible to make the changes permanent ones.

“It really can’t be for more than a couple of years, maybe three if we really, really squeeze things down,” Doll said. “We can’t sustain this without additional dollars from the Legislature.”

Not all the funding is coming from savings.

Higher poverty rates throughout the district mean schools will receive more dollars from the state for at-risk students. That money will help the district cover full-day kindergarten at Sunset Hill, Deerfield, Quail Run and Langston Hughes. Those programs will be in place by the start of next school year, and half-day kindergarten will continue to be an option. The majority of schools in Kansas already provide full-day kindergarten.

“I think it is time for us to extend this to all the schools; it makes great sense,” board member Keith Diaz Moore said.

As for lowering class size, some of the cost for that will come from increased student enrollment. But the district will also pull from its contingency reserves and cash balances.

Right now, the average class size is at 21.5 students per teacher and can be as high as the low 30s. Increased enrollment would have bumped the average up to 22, but the added funding means the average will drop to 21 and allow for the district to add teachers to hot spots so classes won’t be much bigger than 28 students per class.

“This is an issue that continues to come up,” school board member Randy Masten said of class sizes. “I’m glad we are able to at this point make a move like this to alleviate the stress.”


Joe Hyde 5 years, 11 months ago

Outstanding! Making these decisions took not just brains but also guts.

KS 5 years, 11 months ago

riverat - Joe, put your brain together and tell us who is going to pay for this? Hummmmm?

Jeff Kilgore 5 years, 11 months ago

KS, you telling anybody to put anybody's brain together is a textbook example of verbal irony.

Kookamooka 5 years, 11 months ago

Thank God! A decision that will improve the lives of all, if not most, of the teachers and students in USD497.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

why? what we really need is more rocks. They symbolize progressive thinking.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 11 months ago

Good move, and glad they could find the money.

KU_cynic 5 years, 11 months ago

Obviously these policy changes are good for educational quality -- at a cost.

That said, what happened to all the hand-wringing over budgets over the past few years?

Here's my prediction: These expansions get into the USD 497 budget, state-provided revenues will prove insufficient to sustain them, and we'll be asked to pony up for more local taxes when the inevitable "crisis" hits.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 11 months ago

That could happen, and is certainly the Governor's plan when things get tough. He can say he's "cutting" taxes, then dump all the costs and services on each community.

aryastark1984 5 years, 11 months ago

What happened to the the hand-wringing about the budget indeed? Good question. And the answer sort of stinks. The truth is that all the while that the school board was claiming budget shortfalls, they were adding money to their contingency and reserve accounts. Why are we spending this money now? Because Topeka has told us that we have to. We literally have too much money in the bank.

This is one of the reasons why this new school board insisted on a budget oversight committee, to make sure that cries of poverty match reality.

chootspa 5 years, 11 months ago

While that's completely true, I think some of the reasoning is that they predicted continued cuts in the state budget and wanted to make sure they held something back for basic education. Unfortunately that meant that they cut too early, held back too much, and their reserves were used as yet another excuse for claiming that we needed to cut all the budgets. Catch 22. It's really a pity, because I'm sure there were at risk students that could have used reading tutors or all day kindergarten and didn't get it. Plus I think their decision to move to k-5 instead of k-6 was rash and poorly thought out.

Next up, Dave T, "not a Koch employee but he happens to take money from them and agree with al their positions," will point out the money reserves issue and use it to argue for paying for private schools with taxpayer money.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 11 months ago

Not exactly true. The Legislature is forcing some spend down the reserves. Schools are businesses and most of them do not have the reserves generally recommended for a business of similar size. They didn't 'find' money and the long-term prospects are still pretty difficult.

aryastark1984 5 years, 11 months ago

Paul and chootspa, your comments address the complexities of school funding in KS. Schools have learned to fear the whims of funding and responded logically by stashing money in reserve. Now, of course they are being penalized for being prudent.

These things are all true, but let us not fail to acknowledge that there were some who saw this crisis as an opportunity to further cut elementary education (moving 6th grade also reflects this bias).

Paul R Getto 5 years, 11 months ago

I don't disagree on that point. Politics and finance are complex on a good day and the boards are stuck in the middle between unlimited need and limited resources. If they keep cutting the base and pay down the reserves, it will get really interesting. Thousands have already been laid off around the state the past few years. This is unlikely to change with Muscular Sam and his minions in charge. Good comment.

Cogito_Ergo_Es 5 years, 11 months ago

What they'll do is turn around and close a school next year. Everyone whose head was on the chopping block this year, will be right back there next year. This is not a sustainable plan, as was stated above. Where does the money for this programming come from? You understand, you all asked for this. You wanted smaller class sizes. You wanted all-day kindergarten. This is the price you pay! (Yes, dramatic, I know, but I'm starting to see patterns here, this is apparently how the game is played. And BAM, before you know it another school bites the dust.)

adagio 5 years, 11 months ago

This is a GREAT day and GREAT news!!

James Minor 5 years, 11 months ago

Great Job School Board!!! Listening to the requests of the populace and trying to improve education by reducing the class size. Hiring more teachers will improve the economy and give confidence there are jobs in the education field. Your decision shows Lawrence that you are not a bunch of folks with your own agenda!!!!!

streetman 5 years, 11 months ago

Yippee! We have (?) a few bucks, so let's go on a shopping spree!!!!

Cogito_Ergo_Es 5 years, 11 months ago

The reality of this is truly as Doll said; it is unsustainable. The board sure looks good right now, but what about the future board that has to close schools to sustain this? Even these moves right now aren't realistic because we're also talking about physical space, or at least I am anyway. Where exactly are Deerfield and Langston Hughes going to put all those full-day kindergarteners? We have classrooms, you say, because the last board had the foresight to kick the 6th graders up to middle school, thereby providing open classrooms and the justification for closing a school. But sorry folks those rooms haven't been sitting empty this year. You know who uses those rooms? Other at-risk kids. If your child has an IEP, goes to OT, PT, Speech, ISA Reading, ISA Math, Gifted, or any other services in a 'resource room,' you can forget it now, you're child will be sitting in the hallway or at best a closet. I'm not discounting the good the board is trying to do with these moves, but don't look at this through rose-colored glasses. Like everything else, it is a trade-off. We just gave a leg-up to one at-risk group and knocked the other at-risk groups down a peg. If you really want to impress me, get rid of the portables, open up the school's that have been closed, spread the kids out across the district and see that all children, all at-risk groups, itinerant teachers, and everyone else, have a reasonable space to work and learn. If I remember correctly the district's motto is, "Learning for All." Why not make a plan that actually supports that? Oh, wait, long term (and financial) planning has not exactly been our strong suit.

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