Lawrence school board approves budget that exceeds revenue neutral rate, lowers mill levy slightly

photo by: USD 497 screenshot

The Lawrence school board is pictured at its meeting on Sept. 12, 2022.

After a long process that involved community pushback, more than $6 million in cuts and contract negotiations for both certified and classified staff members, the Lawrence school board has officially adopted its budget for the 2022-2023 school year.

As part of its meeting Monday, the Lawrence school board held its budget hearing and adopted three resolutions related to the budget. The board voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution to exceed the revenue neutral rate, a resolution regarding the district’s local option budget and the required state budget form. The local option budget gives the district the authority to spend the maximum amount allowed by the state finance formula — which was approved by voters in 2015 and is subject to a protest petition.

“I appreciate that our community has supported the district and the (maximum) 33% local option budget,” Board President Shannon Kimball said. “We need those funds to operate effectively and serve our students.”

The budget includes a maximum spending authority of $231.69 million and lowers the district’s property tax rate by about one mill, from 52.84 mills to 51.776 mills. However, because of increases in property values, the amount of money collected by the district will increase. In the last year, residential property values in Lawrence have increased by 15.6%, according to the Douglas County Appraiser’s Office. To collect the same amount in property taxes as the last school year, or meet the revenue neutral rate, the board would have had to decrease the district’s property tax rate by 4.804 mills, to 48.036 mills.

The school district’s budget is largely built around the state finance formula. The base state aid for 2022-2023 is $4,846 per student, an increase of $140 per student, according to a district news release. Kimball also remarked on that amount, saying that in her opinion it was not sufficient to meet student needs reflected in state assessments that measure students’ proficiency in reading, math and science skills.

“Through no fault or failure of the board of education or staff in our district, the needs of our students in our communities — and I imagine that this is true not only in Lawrence public schools but across the state — exceed the resources that are being provided to us by the State Legislature,” Kimball said.

To help address a budget shortfall driven largely by enrollment declines and the board’s desire to set aside funding for staff raises, the board previously voted to approve $6.4 million in budget cuts. Those included dozens of staff cuts, program reductions and the creation of multigrade elementary classrooms. The board has also approved contracts and raises with the unions representing teachers and staff, both of which fell short of wage proposals from the unions.

Specifically, the board approved a contract with the Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers and other certified staff, that included about $1.05 million more toward the certified staff salary pool, including $862,616 to increase the overall salary schedule matrix, or a 1.8% increase, and $186,000 toward “horizontal movement” for increased education. The board approved a contract with the Personnel Association of Lawrence-Communication Workers of America, the union representing classified staff, that included a 4.95% increase in funding for that classified salary pool, falling far short of the union’s proposal to bring all pay to at least $15 per hour.

In other business:

•The board received an update on work to create a facility master plan that will help inform budget decisions for next school year, which include the possibility of school closures and other budget cuts. The district proposed closing multiple schools for the 2022-2023 school year, but the board took school closures off the table due in part to the short time frame for discussion.

The district hired RSP & Associates to update enrollment projections and help create the facility master plan, and as part of Monday’s meeting the board received a report regarding the membership and direction/objective of a community committee that will be involved in the process. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said 78 people applied to be on the committee and that 40 people will ultimately be selected. Lewis said so far 36 people had been selected, and the district was holding open the four additional seats as it works to make sure various demographics are represented. He said the district considered factors such as location of residence, race, and role in the district. He said one school was not represented and he realized not all races were represented — so far the committee includes white, Black, Asian, and multi-racial members.

The committee will use the enrollment analysis, facility condition assessments, cost estimates, boundary scenarios and district data to inform its planning discussions. The board discussed the stated objective for the committee, which has been named the Futures Planning Committee. The stated objective proposed by the district was: “Analyze the data to develop a prioritized recommendation based on the values of the community of how to best use our limited resources to achieve the mission and vision of Lawrence Public Schools.” Several board members said the objective should more specifically call attention to the district’s budget challenges, budget goals, and the need to make operational changes to address them. Lewis said the committee’s first meeting would take place on Wednesday.

• Ronald “GR” Gordon-Ross was sworn into office. The board selected Gordon-Ross, a former school board member, to fill a vacant board seat on Aug. 30, 2022. The vacancy was created by the recent resignation of Andrew Nussbaum.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Ronald “GR” Gordon-Ross is sworn into office as part of the Lawrence school board meeting on Sept. 12, 2022. The board selected Gordon-Ross, a former school board member, to fill a vacant board seat on Aug. 30, 2022.


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