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.”