School funding No. 1 priority for group of parent-lobbyists

In just one meeting, a group of parents tasked with lobbying on behalf of schools have narrowed in on single target: convince state lawmakers to provide more funding to school districts.

On Monday, the Lawrence school district’s Citizen Group for Legislative Education and Advocacy met for the first time. The group is intended to be the base of a network of parents who will call, email, write and talk with legislators in support of schools.

But even Superintendent Rick Doll said he didn’t expect the group to be plunged into politics so quickly.

Late last week, the Senate Education Committee introduced a bill that would boost the state’s funding per pupil by $74. For the Lawrence school district, that would bring in an extra $1 million to the general operating budget next year.

The proposed bill would also lift the cap on how much local school districts can tax to raise money on their own. Right now the amount is 31 percent of the district’s operating budget. But the proposed bill would push it to 35 percent.

As superintendent, Doll said he couldn’t tell the group what to advocate. But he wasn’t shy about his thoughts on the bill.

“From a Lawrence standpoint, it is a good thing for us,” he said.

In the past three years, the state has decreased funding to the district by about $10 million, and the amount of funding per student has dropped to levels that haven’t been seen in more than a decade.

While the bipartisan plan isn’t a perfect solution, Doll said “it was the best we’ve seen so far.”

Parents began to discuss how to reach out to lawmakers before a committee hearing Wednesday.

“Now is the time to mobilize,” said Marci Leuschen, who is a parent at Sunflower School and a high school teacher.

Many serving on the group see a need for parent advocacy and expressed frustration with the current situation.

“So many parents say, ‘We are fed up. What can we do?'” said Jenny Skillman, who has children at Pinckney School. “I think people are just hungry for information.”