Lawrence school district says it overestimated savings in school closing scenarios by at least $1M
photo by: Journal-World
Story updated at 7:55 p.m. Friday:
Lawrence school district administrators have acknowledged that they overestimated the cost savings associated with a proposed school closing scenario by more than $1 million.
On Thursday evening, the district acknowledged errors had been made in the cost savings estimates recently presented to the public, and it issued corrected estimates on Friday. After the corrections, the budget-reduction package that would save the district the most money has now flipped from one that proposes five school closures to one that proposes none.
The inaccurate school district estimates were included in three budget packages presented during a meeting at the school district headquarters on Wednesday. Two of the options include school closures, and it’s those packages that had the most significant errors. The district overestimated the savings for those packages by $1.3 million and $1 million, respectively, with those amounts largely made up of savings that were attributed to the school closures but in fact aren’t dependent upon any schools being closed.
The school district says the issue was brought to its attention by staff on Wednesday. However, the Journal-World heard members of the Save Our Schools group also questioning the figures at Wednesday’s meeting, although the group didn’t formally raise objections at the meeting.
Save Our Schools subsequently put out a statement Thursday afternoon that included a call for the school board to correct the issue and “present authentic numbers for proposed savings,” among requests for various other considerations. Specifically, Save Our Schools asked that the cost savings from staff reductions due to enrollment declines, a savings of $610,620 that would happen regardless of school closures, be “decoupled” from the district’s estimated savings for the two school closure scenarios.
“Including the cost savings of $610,620 from these ten positions is not transparent as these savings happen regardless of school closure and have no connection to the closures,” the statement says.
As a result of the questions discussed by Save Our Schools members on Wednesday, the Journal-World also asked the district on Thursday about the issue of staff reductions related to enrollment declines being included in savings estimates for school closings.
In addition to the $610,620, which is tied to staff reductions at the elementary level, the district also noted in the corrected estimates that another $376,451 had to be deducted from both of the school closure scenarios because another six staff reductions at the middle school level were also due to enrollment declines and not dependent upon any schools being closed. Taken together with some other staff adjustments, the district now estimates that both of the options that close schools actually generate about $910,000 less in direct savings than the district initially estimated.
The district’s corrections also affected the number of staff reductions in each budget-reduction package. Initially, the option that included no school closures had the most staff reductions, at 117, and the option that included five school closures had the fewest staff reductions, at 76. Under the corrected estimates, the option with five school closures now has the most staff reductions.
Specifically, the option with five school closures now has 99 staff reductions and the option with no school closures now has 95 staff reductions. Option two, with two school closures, now has 84 staff reductions instead of 99. Each package also includes program reductions, and no corrections were made to those numbers. The option with no school closures still has the most program reductions, at 34 proposed reductions.
Below is a breakdown of the cost estimate changes and other details for each option:
• Option One: In the budget-reduction packages presented Wednesday, the district estimated the total savings for option one to be $7.8 million, with the five school closures generating about $3.08 million in savings. Under the corrected estimates, the total savings are now $6.5 million, with the five school closures generating about $2.17 million. The five schools that would be closed are Broken Arrow Elementary, New York Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, Pinckney Elementary and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. There is a reduction of 24 programs and 99 staff (increased from 76 staff).
• Option Two: The district previously estimated the total savings for option two to be $6.8 million, with the two school closings generating about $2.14 million in savings. Under the corrected estimates, the total savings are now $5.8 million, with the two school closures generating about $1.23 million. The two schools that would be closed are Broken Arrow Elementary and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. There is a reduction of 32 programs and 84 staff (decreased from 99 staff).
• Option Three: The district previously estimated the total savings for option three to be $6.6 million, with no school closures. Under the corrected estimates, the total savings are now $6.7 million. There is a reduction of 34 programs and 95 staff (decreased from 117 staff).
The district acknowledged the errors in a news release Thursday evening before ultimately releasing the corrected estimates on Friday. In the news release, district spokesperson Julie Boyle said Lawrence public schools administration was reviewing changes that needed to be made to the materials shared during Wednesday’s meeting.
Boyle stated that staff members involved in Wednesday’s meeting brought the issue to the attention of administration, and she thanked those staff for doing so, noting that making data-based decisions was a key theme of the district’s strategic plan. The district apologized for the problem.
“The district is committed to using complete and accurate data,” Boyle said. “Once calculations are complete and the data is verified, updated information will be sent to all participants in the equity analysis and shared publicly. The district sincerely apologizes that materials distributed Wednesday included incomplete data.”
The three budget-reduction packages presented Wednesday were drawn from a larger list of dozens of potential budget cuts that the district introduced in January. That spreadsheet of potential cuts gives more information about the relationships between different savings and how different line items could be combined or not.
Boyle said in the news release that when calculations in the list of budget-reduction proposals were combined to create the three budget-reduction packages, some of the estimated savings and impacts on staffing were “double-counted.” In addition, she said that in the list of budget proposals, each individual item did not include an estimate of the impact on staffing. She said that after the school boundary scenarios were run, the domino effect they had on each of the line items became clear so data recalculations could be made. She added in a second news release on Friday that when the packages were created, staff had not calculated the effects that the related boundary changes would have on staff reductions and savings.