Lawrence school board makes cuts, approves 2020 budget; ratifies teacher compensation package with $1.9M increase

photo by: Nick Krug

The Lawrence Public Schools district offices are pictured at 110 McDonald Drive in this file photo from May 2017.

After making hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts, the Lawrence school board approved a 2020 fiscal year budget and ratified its agreement with the local teachers union.

Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance for the district, proposed making $368,000 in cuts during the board’s Monday meeting to allow for it to finalize its budget that expects to spend about $105.4 million.

The board unanimously approved the cuts and finalized the budget. The approved budget includes a 0.784 drop to the mill levy, which means the owner of a $200,000 home will pay roughly $18 less in property taxes to the school district next year.

In July, the board gave initial approval to a budget proposal with an expected expenditure of $105.4 million, which is $4.3 million more than last year’s $101.1 million budget.

That increase in spending will be covered mostly by extra funding from the state. The school funding plan that the Kansas Legislature passed in its last session will result in a roughly $4 million increase for the district this year. The district is also expected to collect about $300,000 more in property taxes.

Of the new money, the district set aside roughly $2.5 million for priorities such as covering last year’s deficit spending and left the remaining $1.7 million unallocated, hoping to use it to pay for teacher salaries. But Johnson told the board during its July 22 meeting that the deficit spending would cost the district $300,000 more than expected.

The changes to the budget were needed because last week, the Lawrence Education Association and the school district’s administrators announced a tentative agreement to increase teacher compensation by $1.9 million. The agreement includes a raise of $218 to the base salary for teachers, a step up on the teacher pay scale for those who qualify and a continuation of teachers’ current health insurance plans, among other incentives.

With only $1.4 million of funds available and an agreement of $1.9 million with the teachers union, the budget was facing a roughly $500,000 hole. When the Journal-World last week asked Johnson about the tentative agreement coming in higher than the available funding, she said the board needed to make cuts to the proposed budget before it could be finalized on Monday.

During the meeting on Monday, Johnson offered making the $368,000 worth of cuts by making a 5% cut to building budgets, a 5% cut to professional development funds, cuts to overtime spending and software spending. Johnson said along with the cuts, the school district made changes to the administrative staff wage budget to save $160,000. The cuts and the savings equal about $528,000 of changes to the budget.

After approving the budget, the board finalized a tentative contract agreement with the teachers union. Laurie Folsom, president of the teachers union, told the board that union members approved the agreement earlier on Monday.

With the board’s ratification, the contract between the teachers and the school district was finalized about four months earlier than last year, which was not resolved until December with the help of a federal mediator.

In other business:

• The board approved compensation increases for classified and administrative staff. According to board documents, the school district is offering an increase in compensation for both at the same 2.4% rate as the teacher contract. The total cost for classified staff compensation increases by $868,000, and the cost of administrative staff compensation increases by $191,000.

• The board approved spending $54,000 to remove asbestos from Lawrence High School. The asbestos is one of the causes of the recently announced six-day delay to the start of the school year for high school students.

The school district is currently undergoing construction improvements at both high schools. Julie Boyle, district spokeswoman, told the Journal-World that crews found asbestos in Lawrence High School through a preconstruction survey prior to the construction project. School board documents show that a consultant was hired for the survey in January 2018, and in March of this year, the district approved a $112,554 bid to have a company remove materials containing asbestos at the school.

However, when construction began this summer, additional asbestos was discovered in the concrete block of a wall that was being removed from Lawrence High School, Boyle said.

With the board approval, the school district will hire B&R Insulation Inc. to remove the newly found asbestos.

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