Lawrence school district launches survey to get public input on budget reductions, including staff cuts, school closures

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

The Lawrence school district is conducting a community survey to help inform the district’s budget decisions.

The Futures Planning Committee, which is tasked with coming up with budget and potential school closure recommendations for further discussion by the school board, will use the survey responses to inform its recommendation. The board will make the ultimate decision about budget reductions.

The district hired RSP & Associates to facilitate the process, and RSP consultants came up with the survey questions in conjunction with district administrative staff. The survey provides some information about the committee’s process as well as the district’s three budget priorities of paying competitive wages, allocating funds to annual cost increases, and increasing the district’s depleted reserve funds. The survey then asks respondents to prioritize among three areas for budget reductions: staffing, programs and school buildings.

Respondents can indicate whether they think the district should consider (or not consider) certain elements under each of the three areas. For instance, under potential staffing reductions, respondents can indicate whether they think the district should consider reducing administrative staffing, early childhood services, school staffing, classified staffing or student support services. Other options include eliminating Wednesday early dismissal/collaboration time and increasing class sizes and the number of multi-grade classes.

Under potential programming reductions, respondents can indicate whether the district should consider reducing middle and/or high school athletics, student activities such as band and art, or elective class offerings, among others. Under the category of potential school closures or “facility utilization changes,” respondents can indicate whether the district should consider consolidating or repurposing school buildings, using “grade-level centers” (e.g. a K-2 center and 3-5 center) to reduce staffing costs, or repurposing buildings with new programs designed to increase student enrollment, among others. Other questions ask what factors the committee should consider when examining the use of district buildings.

The school board made $6.4 million in budget cuts for this school year, choosing to make teacher and program cuts rather than close any schools. Those cuts were driven by enrollment declines as well as a desire to allocate more money for staff raises and the district’s reserve funds. Preliminary numbers indicate enrollment between last school year and this school year has remained steady, as the Journal-World previously reported, but the board has expressed a strong desire to make teacher and staff pay more competitive, and on Monday board members said they would like to see all three of the district’s budget priorities addressed to some degree in the district’s budget for next school year. Since flat enrollment will likely mean the district does not receive additional state funding, money will have to be freed up for those priorities through budget reductions.

The survey is open to all community members, not just those who have children in the district, according to a district news release. Respondents have until Nov. 18 to participate in the survey. A link to the survey is available on the district’s website, usd497.org.

The Futures Planning Committee began meeting in September and will make its recommendation to the board in February. It will analyze the results of the survey as part of its meeting on Nov. 30.

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