Lawrence school board takes second look at spending priorities

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

Lawrence USD 497 school board

The Lawrence school board took another look Monday at how it will spend new money it expects to get for the 2018-2019 school year without yet knowing how much additional revenue it will get.

Kathy Johnson, district executive director of finance, updated the board on what could happen when the Kansas Legislature returns Thursday to Topeka for its wrap-up session. The No. 1 business item on the legislative agenda is the anticipated fix of the five-year, $534 million school finance plan passed at the end of the Legislature’s regular session on April 3. Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the bill; however, it was quickly learned that it contained an $80 million shortfall because of an error in the funding plan.

Johnson said there was a plan developed to amend the bill. It appeared the district would receive about $4.4 million in additional money for next year, but that figure was only speculation until the Legislature acts.

“That’s a guess,” she said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

Johnson told the board the district already has committed to spending about $3.7 million of new money on such things as maintaining current middle school and high school staffing levels, the new positions or programs added during this school year that will continue next year, teacher and administration raises and a 10.7 percent increase in fringe benefits.

Johnson also presented the board a list of funding priorities based on board discussions from earlier this month. She listed as high priorities 11 new positions– 13 full-time positions and one half-time position — which would require more than $700,000 in salary and benefits, or all the remaining new money she guessed the district would receive. The positions included an additional full-time kindergarten teacher and two new first-grade teachers to reduce class sizes; three new special education teachers; an equity facilitator and two curriculum facilitators. Also listed as high priority was a $50,000 contract to provide ALICE (active shooter) safety training.

Listed as middle priorities were the addition of four school resource officers to augment the two assigned to Lawrence and Free State high schools employed by the Lawrence Police Department.

Board president Shannon Kimball said the SROs should be considered separately because they should be employees of the Lawrence Police Department, which would train them. She noted there were city-provided SROs placed in district middle schools in the past, but they were removed when grant money paying their salaries ended. She suggested the school district approach the city about assuming responsibility for additional SROs.

“I thought, historically, SROs were a budget item for the city,” she said. “Why is it on our budget list?”

Johnson agreed the SROs should be employees of the Lawrence Police Department. There was a possibility grants would again be available for SROs, she said.

The board took no action on priorities with the revenue picture still unclear. Interim Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said the board would have to make decisions on some of the high-priority items, such as the equity and curriculum facilitators, at its May 14 meeting. The district had advertised for the positions and would interview candidates later this week, she said, as successful candidates currently employed by another school district would have to inform their superiors by mid-May they were leaving their positions.