Lawrence school board adopts budget, sets tax rate for 2023-24 school year amid some dissent

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

The Lawrence school board on Monday officially adopted a budget that increases the local property tax rate, while also providing approximately $6.6 million in raises for staff.

As part of its agenda Monday, the board held its public budget hearing and unanimously adopted a resolution to exceed the revenue neutral rate. Its 2023-24 operating budget, which includes $242.73 in total expenditures — a roughly $22.65 million increase from the 2022-23 budget, passed on a 6-1 vote. Carole Cadue-Blackwood was the lone board member to oppose the budget — and was also the only one to cast a dissenting vote against a resolution to approve the local option budget (LOB) — which grants the district the authority to spend the maximum amount allowed by the state finance formula.

Before the vote on the operating budget, board member Shannon Kimball expressed concern that further opposition could potentially unravel months of hard work.

“Because we approved those staff salaries and other expenditures all throughout this past year for this school year — based on projections our staff have given us about money generated in the base state aid formula — and how much money that would generate through the local option budget formula,” Kimball said. “If we walked back (the amount we levied in the LOB) at this juncture, what we would be doing is cutting money from the budget that we already committed to spend.”

Cadue-Blackwood said that her dissenting votes centered on the closures of Pinckney and Broken Arrow elementary schools and the burden that the closures placed on those families.

The approved budget raises the district’s mill levy by just over a mill to 52.229, but even a slightly decreased mill levy would have been offset by soaring property tax values. Under the district’s 2023-24 budget plan, a homeowner would pay roughly $64 more in taxes for a home valued at $250,000, according to previous information provided to the board by Cynde Frick, the district’s executive director of finance.

“I would say to the community that if this board made a different decision that we just made in terms of our LOB, I’m not sure how we would live up to the commitments that we have made to our staff in terms of wages,” Kimball said. “We made some really hard financial decisions over the last year to fund those raises.”

Some of the difficult decisions alluded to by Kimball included the closure of the two elementary schools.

“When you look at this, you have to understand that closing schools is not separate from the action we just took,” said board member Bob Byers following the local budget option vote. “That actually makes it possible for us to have the money to do things we are hoping to do in our schools.”

Several members of the public expressed displeasure with the budget plan.

“The level of uncontrollability and discipline issues I saw as a substitute teacher in the district were just alarming to me,” said Melanie Dill. “And now I’m thinking, ‘you’re raising my taxes for what?’ These are kids that are not getting the kind of discipline they need, and don’t want to be productive citizens. This is what I’ve seen, and I don’t want my taxes raised for this.”

In other business, the board:

• Unanimously approved a bid for the installation of solar arrays at Prairie Park Elementary as part of a pilot program. Of seven bid submissions, the board selected a $240,590 proposal from Cromwell Environmental Inc., the parent company to Lawrence-based Cromwell Solar. Larry Englebrick, the district’s chief operations officer, told the board prior to the vote that the installation of the solar system will “return a $480,000 profit to the district in its general fund” through reduced energy consumption over the next 25 years.


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