Lawrence school board asks for list of possible budget cuts that considers impact on students

photo by: Lawrence school district

The Lawrence school board discusses the upcoming process for budget cuts as part of a special meeting Feb. 21, 2022.

With the goal of causing the least harm to students, Lawrence school board members want district staff to create a list that prioritizes potential budget cuts with the least impact on students.

The school board discussed options for addressing the district’s multimillion-dollar budget shortfall as part of a special meeting Monday. Along with the prioritized list, board members agreed they would like the district staff to include information about the repercussions that each cut would have.

Board Vice President Shannon Kimball said what she still needed to know was which cuts are really feasible from the perspective of the district’s professional staff.

“What I don’t feel like I have a good handle on, based on what I’ve seen so far, is out of all of that information and even out of the (Budget and Program Evaluation Committee) proposals, what things in the professional, educational opinion of administration and our building leadership are even doable,” Kimball said.

Kimball used the example of proposed cuts to library staff, saying that she knows those staff members play an integral role in the structure of elementary schools. Board member Kelly Jones also agreed that she wanted to understand the impacts of potential cuts on students, giving the example of proposed cuts to learning coaches, which provide assistance and support to new teachers.

The district estimates its budget deficit is $3.2 million to $3.85 million, and the board has discussed a target of $7 million in budget reductions to have funding for staff raises next school year. According to presentation materials from Monday’s meeting, it would cost $560,000 for a 1% raise to certified staff, $182,000 for a 1% raise to classified staff, and $83,000 for a 1% raise for administrative staff.

The board did not vote on the direction to create a prioritized list, but reached a consensus about the information they’d like to have for the upcoming budget decisions and the process they’d like to follow. Board members also agreed that they would like to look beyond the cuts that have been proposed thus far, and that the list district staff members bring the board for consideration should be as expansive as possible so the board has room to provide raises and potentially eliminate undesirable options.

Budget reduction options currently on the table include creating multi-grade elementary classrooms, eliminating the high school gymnastics program, and eliminating some assistant coaches in the middle school cheer and middle school basketball programs, among various other potential reductions. Another option that has been proposed is to use furlough days to reduce the salaries of administrators making more than $100,000, with a reduction of 5% amounting to about $170,000 in budget savings.

As part of the meeting, the board received information from a recently completed “thought exchange,” an online platform where the public can submit input and assign rankings to others’ comments. The highest ranked comment was that cuts should be made to “bloated” district administrative salaries and unnecessary administrative positions rather than those that affect students and staff.

As part of Monday’s meeting, the board initially discussed the possibility of asking for a more specific dollar figure for the prioritized list or creating a two-phase process of making cuts, where the first phase only addressed the budget deficit and the second phase addressed budget additions. However, board members ultimately settled on the more general option of an expansive prioritized list, citing that raises for teachers and staff are subject to union negotiations that will not be complete by the time some of the first budget decisions need to be made.

To provide adequate notice to staff whose contracts may not be renewed, the board discussed the desire for district staff to have the prioritized list ready toward the beginning of March — an exact date will be announced later — in preparation for deciding which cuts to pursue on March 28. Because some cuts could have other effects, additional related decisions about spending and resources could be made after that date.

The board’s direction on Monday came on the heels of its meeting last week in which the board discussed three proposed packages of program and staff cuts, two of which included school closures. As part of that meeting, the board decided to take any school closings off the table for next year in favor of pursuing other budget reductions.


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