Lawrence school board to again discuss 2018-2019 funding priorities

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

The district’s financial director again will update the Lawrence school board Monday on the district’s 2018-2019 budget outlook as a prelude to discussion on next year’s spending priorities.

At its last two meetings, Kathy Johnson, the district’s executive director of finance, has updated the school board on the Kansas Legislature’s progress in developing a K-12 school finance plan that would fund state school districts.

The Legislature passed a five-year, $534 million school finance plan at the end of its regular session on April 3. That bill, which Gov. Jeff Colyer signed, was to have provided the Lawrence school district an additional $3.5 million for the next school year; however, it was quickly learned that it contained an $80 million shortfall because of an error in the funding plan.

The Legislature will attempt to address that error when it returns to Topeka Thursday to wrap up the legislative year. It will do so with a new forecast that said state tax collections are expected to produce $540 million more in revenue through June 2019 than what was expected from projections released in November. The Associated Press reported that the rosy revenue projection had the governor’s office and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, suggesting the state could fund the education plan in full, while Senate Majority Leader Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, was calling for tax cuts to give the windfall back to taxpayers.

After Johnson provides insights into the Topeka school finance debate, the board will discuss its priorities of how to spend any new money it does get from the state. Earlier this month, Johnson presented to the board a ranked list of spending priorities that placed those the district’s executive committee of administrators recommended higher than those the board proposed. Low on the list were board priorities of safety and security items, including hiring additional school resource officers and/or security personnel, as well as the hiring of a life safety supervisor.

Items ranked in the list’s top tier included hiring special education teachers, an equity facilitator and a speech language pathologist, and increasing fringe benefits by more than $1 million. The middle tier included hiring curriculum facilitators, learning coaches, a registered nurse and other student support positions.

School board president Shannon Kimball said Sunday that Johnson would bring back a priority list that reflected board discussion from earlier this month.

Staff answered most of her questions at the last meeting, Kimball said. Foremost among those was the executive committee’s reasoning for the low priority ranking of the hiring of a security supervisor. A consultant will be contracted to fill those duties for the remainder of this school year, and the district will keep that person on while it develops a clearer picture of the position’s duties, Kimball said.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.