With school closures again an option, Lawrence school board to begin discussing budget for 2023-2024 school year

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

With potential school closures once again on the table and staff pay remaining a focus, the Lawrence school board is set to begin discussing the budget for the 2023-2024 school year earlier than usual.

The Lawrence school board will begin budget conversations during a study session on Monday. A district staff memo to the board states that the conversation was beginning early at the board’s request in order to give the board “an opportunity to review district priorities.”

The memo states that the board will focus on what it will take to meet district priorities “while maintaining a fiscally healthy school district.” The district’s strategic plan includes five priorities: cohesive curriculum, student-centered learning, safe and supportive schools, effective employees and data-informed decisions.

The district proposed closing multiple schools for the 2022-2023 school year to help address a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall driven largely by enrollment declines and the board’s desire to set aside funding for staff raises. The board took school closures off the table for the upcoming school year due in part to the short time frame for discussion; however, both district administrators and board members have said they expect school closures to be up for debate again for the 2023-2024 school year. In addition, after falling far short of pay raise requests from both the certified and classified staff unions, board members said they wanted to begin budget discussions earlier than usual. Ultimately, the board approved $6.4 million in budget cuts, which included dozens of staff cuts, program reductions, and the creation of multi-grade elementary classrooms.

A local parent advocacy group has also asked for an improved process for the board’s budget discussions. In a statement to the board earlier this month, Save Our Schools 497 called on the board to create a best practices procedure when considering school closures that is transparent, inclusive of all stakeholders, thoroughly vetted for equity, and that includes a comprehensive school boundary analysis. Save Our Schools states it is also important for any proposed school closures to include all related costs, such as providing transportation for students, maintenance costs for closed buildings, and any additional positions required to support students and staff under the changes.

“Regardless of where a person stands on the current challenges facing Lawrence schools, we hope we can all agree on the need for true long-term planning, open and transparent dialogue with the community and staff, and utilizing data and best practices to address decreasing enrollment,” the statement reads.

In other business, the school board is scheduled to accept the resignation of school board member Andrew Nussbaum. Nussbaum resigned his position, effective immediately, on July 18. The board will discuss the timeline and process for appointing someone to fill the vacancy.

The Lawrence school board will meet for its study session at 5:15 p.m. Monday at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. The board’s regular meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

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