Lawrence school district seeks savings in diploma-completion program

The Lawrence school district plans to end its contract with her employer, relocate her office and advertise her job as an opening that hasn’t formally been announced yet.

And Sharen Steele’s all for it.

“It’s a real wise move,” said Steele, project coordinator for the Lawrence Diploma Completion Program, operated by the South Central Kansas Education Service Center. “Now, all the money will stay in the district.”

A tentative plan calls for the Lawrence school district to take control of the local diploma-completion program, which the district established in 2004 through a contract with the not-for-profit service center. The Lawrence location offers diploma-competition classes to 340 students from an office in The Malls Shopping Center, 711 W. 23rd St.

By taking back the program and having it overseen by district administrators instead of contract personnel, the district would anticipate saving about $215,000 next year.

“It’s a very important program, and if we can offer the same service less expensively — by having the providers be our own employees — that’s great,” said Mary Loveland, a member of the Lawrence school board. “We’re doing a good thing and doing it for less money.”

The switch is part of a list of budget plans scheduled for discussion tonight by board members. Their meeting is set for 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Board members learned about the potential move March 28, as part of $2.4 million in potential budget cuts suggested as board members mulled closing Wakarusa Valley School at the end of the school year. Board members indeed voted to close Wakarusa Valley, extending the anticipated savings to $2.9 million.

Administrators are searching for savings because they anticipate the district opening the next school year with $3 million less in state revenue.

While many of district’s proposed changes for next year would involve getting along with less — such as dipping into contingency funds, foregoing some purchases, and not filling certain jobs at each of the district’s high schools — assuming control of the diploma-completion program wouldn’t cut any service at all.

People who live in Lawrence but haven’t finished high school still would be able to attend classes, finish their 46 credits and earn actual diplomas — not GEDs — from either Lawrence High School or Free State High School.

“They get a completed transcript and a GPA,” Steele said. “The diplomas look like any other diploma given to any other graduating senior.”

Next year, the program would be located in a district building, saving $23,000 on rent. Employees would use district equipment, saving $3,000 on leasing equipment. And, perhaps most significant of all, the district likely would use existing administrative personnel to oversee the program, an expense now budgeted by the contractor at $100,000 for “administrative fees” and another $20,000 for “diploma program administrator.”

The South Central Kansas Education Service Center, which operates two such centers in Topeka and others near Wichita and in several other smaller districts in the state, budgeted $600,000 to operate the Lawrence program this year.

The Lawrence district figures it could assume all the responsibilities, and hire the existing Lawrence staff, and still come out $215,000 ahead.

“This is a real smart move,” said Steele, who retired after 15 years as principal at New York School before taking on the diploma-completion job. “We have been running it and have a well-oiled machine. It speaks well for the program. Hopefully, we’ll be hired on to continue.”