Lawrence full-day kindergarten expanding as school cuts loom

New middle (school) names

Three down, one to go.

Monday night, members of the Lawrence school board approved new — yet familiar — names for three of the district’s junior high schools this summer:

• South Junior High will become South Middle School.

• Southwest Junior High will become Southwest Middle School.

• West Junior High will become West Middle School.

Central Junior High School’s new name won’t be decided for another couple weeks, giving the board time to study potential costs. The junior high that now occupies the building dedicated in 1923 as Liberty Memorial High School could become Central Middle School, Liberty Memorial Middle School or Central Middle School — The Liberty Memorial Building.

Broken Arrow and Sunflower schools will provide full-day kindergarten, even as the Lawrence school board broadens its consideration of potential budget cuts for the coming school year.

Monday night, board members voted to spend $132,500 to bolster kindergarten programming at the two schools, which are among seven elementaries that currently offer only half-day kindergarten.

The district came up with the money by opting to close Wakarusa Valley School next year. That move would be expected to save $487,508 — not including the additional $75,000 in “at-risk” financing and $68,422 in transportation savings that would be tapped to finance the kindergarten offerings.

The two schools getting the full-day kindergarten also happen to be the ones set to welcome all of Wakarusa Valley’s students: Kids living in the Easy Living Mobile Home Park, near Target, will go to Sunflower, and others will go to Broken Arrow.

“I really like providing a real tangible benefit to those (future) students who are giving up their school,” said Vanessa Sanburn, a school board member.

The decision left an additional $10,992 in savings beyond what already had been previously expected from the upcoming Wakarusa Valley closure, and that additional money will be used to help fill an estimated $3 million budget hole whose potential fillers soon will multiply.

Also during Monday’s meeting, board members said they wanted to see additional budget-cutting options beyond the $2.9 million in adjustments already suggested by administrators, a total that already includes the nearly $500,000 savings by closing Wakarusa Valley. Among the adjustments previously suggested:

• Spend $750,000 from the district’s contingency fund, a savings account that now has nearly $6.8 million in it. Another $250,000 would come from other reserve funds.

• Plan on spending $500,000 in budget credits, which would include revenues from gym rentals, substitute services and other operations.

• Take over management of the Lawrence Diploma Completion Program, which would provide another $215,000.

• Opt not to fill an open teaching position at each of the district’s two high schools, saving the district an estimated $106,413.

• Boost bulk purchasing operations, saving $100,000.

Increased expenses

Mark Bradford, who is in line to become board president in July, said he would like to see other budget options brought forward by administrators. Among them: Eliminate the furloughs that were imposed this year on administrators plus custodians, maintenance, IT and other classified, nonteaching personnel.

“Those should be a part of this puzzle,” Bradford said.

That would cost another $109,000, and board members also said they wanted to remain mindful of other possible increases in expenses. The Lawrence Education Association, for example, is pushing for salary increases that would equal $1.389 million overall.

“That could have a huge impact,” said Marlene Merrill, a board member leaving office in July. “Maybe I’m just worrying, but it’s a number that we have to think about.”

Numbers and values

Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer, said that he would look to find at least $1.5 million in potential savings and cuts for board members to consider during an upcoming meeting.

Rick Doll, district superintendent, said that the list likely would include “looking at the ratio,” which means the number of students per teacher. Last year, the board voted to increase the average class size in the district by one student, generating a savings of about $1 million because of the decreased need for teachers.

Scott Morgan, another board member leaving office in July, had been the lone board member earlier in the meeting to vote against adding full-day kindergarten at Broken Arrow and Sunflower.

It’s not that he disagrees with the value of the program. Instead, he’s just not sure how it would measure up when considered alongside other potential cuts in the weeks ahead.

“It seems like it should be part of the mix,” Morgan said.