Lawrence school board gives consensus on ‘budget-neutral’ hiring plan that eliminates contingency

photo by: Meeting screenshot via USD497 on YouTube

In this screenshot from the stream of the Lawrence school board's meeting on Monday, May 13, 2019, Kathy Johnson, the district's director of finances, listens to discussion about a budget-neutral hiring plan.

The Lawrence school board on Monday gave preliminary consensus to a relatively budget-neutral plan that eliminates its contingency pool of teachers who fill its “hot spots.”

Kathy Johnson, the district’s director of finances, presented a plan that would add 12 full-time equivalent, or FTE, elementary teachers, in order to meet the district’s set teacher-student thresholds for class sizes, but it also keeps staffing expenses virtually flat for the next year.

However, the plan eliminates the contingency of roughly 10 FTE at the elementary and secondary levels. The contingency pool fills so-called “hot spots,” which are grades or classes in which enrollment pushes or exceeds the thresholds. For instance, if a school’s two fifth grade classes enrolled 35 students apiece, a third contingency teacher could be assigned to that “hot spot” to absorb some students and relieve class-size pressure.

Board member Shannon Kimball said she was very concerned about having no contingency pool because she couldn’t recall a single year that the district hasn’t needed at least three extra teachers.

Board President Jessica Beeson, however, said she would be uncomfortable adding contingency back into the budget at this stage. She said she wanted to keep an open dialogue going into negotiations with the teachers union, and any decisions that weren’t budget-neutral could set that conversation back.

Board member GR Gordon-Ross said he thought this board had the “fortitude” to have more difficult discussions and look at different ways to solve class size issues, other than “find a hot spot, hire a teacher and put them in the room.”

The board did give staff consensus to move forward and begin hiring the additional 12 elementary teachers, but it did not formally approve a plan.

In other business:

• School board members unanimously voted to approve a request from the Paraeducators Association of Lawrence to allow payroll deductions for association membership fees.

Denise Fish, an instructional support assistant at Prairie Park Elementary, brought the request to the board at its April 22 meeting. She said payroll deduction was the most economically feasible option for members or potential members to pay fees.

In discussion, board member Rick Ingram said it seemed like a “no-brainer” to him and asked if there was any rationale not to allow it. Beeson said she had heard concern that it may be a step toward creating an additional bargaining unit, but she said that was not what the paraeducators were requesting.

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