Lawrence public school board members and district administrators must have had some time on their hands as they waited for the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group to present its plan for the future of the district’s buildings.
While that group extends its reporting deadline with no sign of consensus, the school board this week agreed to form yet another advisory group, a five-member Finance Advisory Committee. This committee, to be appointed next month, will be tasked with helping board members and administrators better understand district budget challenges and opportunities.
School closings and budget problems are paramount issues that need to be addressed, and time is running short. This begs the question: Shouldn’t the school board and district administrators be leading efforts to face these challenges?
Community input and feedback are important and needed, but assigning advisory groups to study issues that ultimately must be decided by the board may not be the best way to get public input about problems that must be solved in a timely manner.
The school board has extended the deadline for the elementary school group to produce a recommendation until Feb. 15, but it seems unlikely the group will reach consensus on significant recommendations even with the extension.
Now the board wants to create a Financial Advisory Committee to review monthly bills and contracts, compare district budgets and spending with those in other districts and study other specific topics set by the board, then offer recommendations to the board. All of these tasks already are or could be handled by the district’s existing staff who are hired to study issues and make recommendations to the board. Why is the board seeking a group of volunteers to also perform those duties?
Even if a stellar group of volunteers is recruited to serve on the Finance Advisory Committee, it will take weeks for them just to get up to speed on financial issues facing the district. Even then, they won’t have as many insights as the district’s staff brings to the table. Budget decisions are looming and there is little chance a new advisory group can provide any significant guidance in time for this year’s budget deliberations.
The community elected a school board and employs a professional staff that has colleagues and state education leaders with whom to confer and resources to tap for any issue needing to be addressed. They must be the leaders who collect the community’s thoughts, wishes and needs and then make the sound, timely and unemotional decisions to direct the district’s future.
It’s time for Lawrence school board members and administrators to take back control and do their jobs.