The Lawrence school district’s website lists three major goals for the district’s board and administration: excellence, equity and engagement.
The district may be doing fine on the first two goals, but it has a ways to go in the third goal to “develop a learning community of school, family and community partnerships …”
Engaging the community is a two-way street, and the way the district communicated with the public in recent budget deliberations is a continuing cause for concern.
No details about the district budget were revealed before the night that school board members were asked to approve the publication of a budget that set a maximum spending level for the coming year. A few more details were released and posted on the district’s website before a public hearing scheduled as part of the Aug. 12 board meeting. But a large installment of budget details wasn’t delivered until after that public hearing was over — when taxpayers who are funding that budget had no further opportunity for comment.
The public hearing didn’t exactly draw a crowd, but one district patron did come to the meeting with a question. He thought his question might be answered by the budget presentation so he asked if he could wait to hear that presentation before addressing the board. That wouldn’t be possible, he was told, because the public hearing on the budget was at the beginning of the agenda and the budget presentation to the board was at the end — after public comment was closed.
The man asked his question and got an answer, but we have no idea whether the detailed budget report the board received later in the meeting raised any other questions in the mind of this patron or any other district taxpayer. It didn’t really matter; the public hearing was over, and there was no further opportunity for questions.
The way the Lawrence district handled the budget process apparently is legal and not unique among Kansas school districts. However, it leaves the impression that the district isn’t really interested in engaging the public by revealing information and answering questions about budget details.
Lawrence district officials may think their patrons aren’t interested in all those budget details, but local taxpayers — not to mention state legislators — need to have confidence that school districts are using their tax dollars wisely and frugally. We assume the Lawrence district has nothing to hide, but the current process for sharing budget information leaves much to be desired.