Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rainy day funds

During the current unstable times, Lawrence school officials may need to reconsider spending down the district’s reserves.

May 23, 2012


The uncertainty of the state’s financial situation and how it will affect K-12 funding for the next few years should make Lawrence school officials rethink a couple of recent spending decisions.

This doesn’t look like the right time to be depleting district reserves and making new spending commitments.

Last month, the Lawrence school board voted to expand full-day kindergarten to four more district schools and add 21 new teachers to the district so that class sizes could be reduced. Those two moves, along with reinstating the district’s position for director of instruction and adding a program to help more middle-of-the-road students pursue higher education, are estimated to cost about $2 million next year.

School officials said the cost could be covered by using funds the district expects to receive as a result of increased enrollment and by using cash reserves that have built up over the past couple of years from state funding the district received for at-risk programs. Even at the time the additional spending was approved, district leaders conceded that the new programs couldn’t be sustained for more than two or three years using the current funding sources. “We can’t sustain this without additional dollars from the Legislature,” said Superintendent Rick Doll.

The chances of the district receiving additional dollars or even the same number of dollars from the state in the next few years has perhaps never been more in doubt. The budget passed by the Legislature for next year includes a small increase in per-pupil funding but only after a heated battle. Those budget battles will get much worse if the tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday don’t produce the kind of economic boon predicted by its proponents. The governor already has supported plans to push more responsibility for funding K-12 schools onto local property taxes, and that pressure is likely to increase if the state experiences revenue shortfalls.

That not only makes it likely that the Lawrence district will need its reserve funds for basic operations in the next few years, it also makes it a questionable time to ask voters to approve a bond issue for elementary school improvements, as the board discussed Monday. Even if the bond issue itself could be paid off without increasing taxes, it would add to the district’s overall financial burden and, therefore, to the property tax burden of district patrons.

All of the initiatives being considered by board members — all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, elementary school improvements — certainly are worthwhile goals. It’s also true that officials always should be looking for ways to make the district better. However, with the current financial uncertainty hanging over the state, this is a time to be conservative about spending and perhaps hang on to the reserves that could help the district weather a possible financial storm.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

More importantly the USD 497 should rehab the neglected properties that belong to USD 497 taxpayers. Properties were neglected by certain past board members thinking closing schools would enable them to waste our money on newer/bigger spending projects = reckless and irresponsible.

Meanwhile the bond issue:

And city government should stop expanding Lawrence because that means more expenses for local homeowners now and in the future. Take care of existing infrastructure instead of constantly adding more and more and more and more. In Lawrence,Kansas "expanding the tax base" has increased our taxes across the board = something wrong with this picture.

nativeson 5 years, 5 months ago

The school board has proven its inability to make decisions on resource allocation. It has been clear for several years that consolidation is an important step in sustaining a district that is financially stable. On the heels of no decision on consolidation, the school board is depleting the resources it now has in reserve on the cusp of a budget busting tax bill signed by the Governor.

The bond issue has merit. Rehab of several elementaries is not feasible given their lack of ADA compliance and lack of land. Some existing sites are too small to expand and provide the level of enrollment needed to make the costs work.

However, I think the public will view dimly this proposal given the track record of indecision on the part of the current school board.

aryastark1984 5 years, 5 months ago

You are factually wrong on several points. 1) Consolidation does not save much money unless you are OK with larger class sizes. Those numbers have been crunched and any assertion to the contrary needs empirical support. 2) Making Cordley ADA compliant is much cheaper is entirely possible and will cost much less than building a new school. 3) Of the schools that need additional capacity, there is space for adding onto most (if not all).

Are there other, unexplored ways to save significant chunks of money in operating costs? Certainly. For instance, lets ask the district why they "rent" their bus service. It might be significantly cheaper to buy. How about investigating how to make our buildings more energy efficient. HVAC costs come out of operating costs. Would it save a significant chunk of money to put solar panels on the roofs, wind energy, or geothermal? Let's start thinking outside of the consolidation "box". We have tried that plan and it just doesn't work.

youngjayhawk 5 years, 5 months ago

This might be an opportune time for LPS to revise their calendar; lengthen the school day and shorten the school year to save money. Other districts, ie Eudora, have successfully saved thousands by doing this. Sadly, LPS rarely thinks creatively and snubs their nose at others who do so.

aryastark1984 5 years, 5 months ago

+1. Get rid of the early out days and minimize all the school out days. I don't think there is a school week in November that is a full 5 days. And for heaven's sake why do we start the school year during August, the hottest month of the year?

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