Lawrence school board approves $5.8M in budget cuts, asks for less severe cuts to school libraries
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
The Lawrence school board has approved close to $6 million in budget cuts, including the elimination of dozens of teacher positions and changes to the makeup of classrooms. However, board members pushed back on the district’s proposal to make significant cuts to school library programs.
In order to address a budget shortfall, the board voted 4-3 as part of its meeting Monday, with Carole Cadue-Blackwood, Kay Emerson, and Andrew Nussbaum opposed, to approve 20 budget reductions totaling about $5.8 million. The board did not approve a proposed $608,000 cut to school library programs, asking instead for the district to assess other cuts — to learning coaches and deeper cuts to administration — so that fewer library staff could be eliminated.
The district presented two library proposals Monday, which district staff worked on with library staff, one representing an approximately 40% cut to librarian and librarian assistant positions for a savings of about $608,000 and another representing an approximately 34% cut for a savings of about $509,500. The board voted instead to support a third proposal from district librarians representing an approximately 17% cut for a savings of about $264,320. Aiming for a total of about $6.4 million in cuts, the board directed administration to come up with the difference in the district’s proposal and the approved plan through a combination of cuts to learning coaches and administration.
Board Vice President Shannon Kimball said she was not comfortable with the level of library cuts proposed by district administration, and she wanted the district to try to get to the $6.4 million by looking at those other areas of interest.
“I see the value of the work that the library media specialists have done,” Kimball said.
District administration’s proposal called for a “reorganization of library media,” and further information provided to the board indicated that library media specialists would be cut at the early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school levels. Librarians who spoke at the meeting said that library media assistants, which would also see some cuts, could not make up for the professional experience of the specialists. The board heard from more than a dozen librarians and parents that spoke to the important skills librarians teach students, including media literacy, research skills, and technology assistance.
Rather than the proposed level of library and staff cuts, the community group Save Our Schools 497 called for the board to further reduce central administration staffing levels and implement a tiered salary reduction plan. Save Our Schools founder Alicia Erickson told the board that district administration needed to bear more of the burden of the budget cuts, and that administrative positions should be further adjusted downward beyond the $400,000 that the district recommended due to enrollment declines.
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Reductions to the salaries of higher-paid administrators were among potential budget reductions, but district administration did not recommend those cuts. Lewis said he did not support those cuts because they would affect the district’s ability to attract and retain high-quality administrators. The plan approved Monday includes $400,000 in administrative staff reductions, but the board’s direction was for administration to look for additional cuts.
Initial proposals included a 5% reduction to the salaries of administrators making more than $100,000 through the use of furlough days, which would save the district $169,621 next year. At a budget work session last week, Kimball said she wanted further discussion about a more targeted plan to reduce some administrative salaries. The district presented additional options Monday, including a 6% and 7% reduction, and an option that would instill a salary floor of $100,000 for those affected by reductions.
Though other board members agreed on the goal of reducing the library cuts, they did not agree on how to get there. Emerson was interested in increasing the middle school ratio further than what was proposed, and Cadue-Blackwood and Nussbaum said they’d like to see larger administrative cuts. Nussbaum said in order to feel ethically okay with the plan — a word Board President Erica Hill pushed back on — he wanted to see at least a 5% reduction, and he would be willing to go up to 7%.
“I need to see deeper cuts to the central administration level to share the load and share the impact,” he said.
At the opening of the meeting, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the cuts on the table did not mean that the staff members and programs being affected were not valued, but rather that the district could not sustain the status quo under its current financial pressures.
“The district has no choice but to find ways to operate more efficiently and that means doing business differently,” Lewis said.
One part of the approved budget reduction plan involves a new type of classroom. Under the plan, multiple elementary grade levels will be located in the same classroom taught by the same teacher.
Specifically, the plan calls for mixed kindergarten and first grade classrooms; mixed first grade and second grade classrooms; mixed second grade and third grade classrooms; and mixed fourth grade and fifth grade classrooms. Not every classroom would feature the multi-grade format, but most elementary schools would have at least some multi-grade classrooms. The change is expected to reduce the district’s need for elementary teachers by 24 full-time positions, saving the district up to $1.47 million next school year.
The plan also includes another 10 elementary teacher cuts based on student enrollment declines. About 11 middle school positions will be eliminated based on enrollment declines and an increase in the maximum middle school class size by one student. Ten unspecified staff positions at the district’s high schools were also approved. The district estimates the elimination of those 31 positions will save the district another $2 million next school year.
The approved plan does not include a proposal to eliminate the girls gymnastics program at the high school level, which would have only saved $10,332. Another reduction that the board removed from district administration’s recommended budget reduction plan was $30,500 in cuts to various clubs and activities.
The district is required by state law to approve a balanced budget, and the district estimated the board had to make about $4.27 million worth of cuts to meet that requirement. That portion of the district’s budget reductions was due mainly to declining enrollment. The board is looking to approve the additional $2.8 million in cuts to provide raises to district staff. The district is estimating that would fund a 3% to 4% wage increase for many of the district’s employees.
The new proposal will come back to the board for further review at a future meeting.