$3.85M boost in funding from Legislature offset by Lawrence schools’ needs

School board begins to consider options to check deficit spending

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

The school finance bill that the Kansas Legislature passed and Gov. Laura Kelly signed on Saturday would add about $3.85 million to the Lawrence school district’s funding next year.

However, Kathy Johnson, the district’s executive director of finance, told the school board Monday evening that while that may sound like a lot, the funds don’t always go that far. Deficit spending and staffing to meet class-size requirements were two of the key concerns she mentioned to the board.

If the state Supreme Court does not strike down the school finance bill, the district’s projected base state aid per pupil would be increased by $271 for 2019-2020 to a total of $4,436 — higher than it’s been since 2009, Johnson said. Then it would see an increase of roughly $135 for each of the three subsequent years.

However, that funding will be based on this year’s enrollment numbers, she explained.

“If you see a jump in enrollment next year, you’re dealing with this year’s enrollment,” Johnson told the board. “You will not see funding for that new group of kids until the next year. So if you have no reserves, you have no ability to go anywhere, to deal with something that surfaces because of that bump of enrollment.”

Of concern to Johnson is the contingency reserve balance of $2.96 million as of July 1, 2018. The district has also spent down health reserves, which cover increases in premiums in health insurance, down to $477,713, according to Johnson’s presentation to the board.

Staffing at the elementary level presents a challenge to the district, Johnson said. There’s a lot of fluctuation in class sizes and building populations from year to year as students enter and leave the district — for instance, for the 2018-2019 year, the district had 969 new students, and 923 left, for a net gain of 46, according to an enrollment analysis the board heard in a work session with the Overland Park-based firm RSP earlier Monday.

Johnson said the Budget and Program Evaluation Committee had been looking at several options to try to handle staffing costs. A few of the components of options Johnson mentioned were reducing high school staff, reducing nonclassroom certified staff such as learning coaches and transferring contingency at the secondary level to the elementary level.

Under the model the district uses to determine the number of teachers needed at elementary schools, it’s likely that 12 new teachers will be needed to keep class sizes below the threshold of 25 students. However, that means some classes are quite small — for instance, one grade at Woodlawn Elementary is projected to be only 27 students, but because it’s above 25, they’re split into classes of 14 and 13.

School board President Jessica Beeson asked whether it might be possible to combine some grade levels to help with that type of imbalance.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis said that’s a conversation that has begun, and staff will look to see whether any teachers might be interested in volunteering to try that model.

Samrie Devin, director of human resources, told the board that some of the schools with higher class sizes, such as Deerfield and Langston Hughes elementaries, will be closed to new transfers next year; also, if some class sizes are still too high, some current transfers could be revoked.

Board member Shannon Kimball said she thought this was the year to try to address deficit spending. She pointed out that there are no legislative elections this fall, so the makeup of the Kansas House and Senate won’t change between budget cycles.

Kimball said she’s open to talking about multi-age classrooms, changing schools’ boundaries, changing the way schools are staffed and how facilities are managed, if that’s what needs to happen, in order to keep the budget in line as well as meet the community’s needs.

“We just can’t keep doing the same thing we’re doing,” she said.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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