Lawrence school board approves $17M capital improvement plan, plus new curriculum resource for elementary math

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Lawrence school board holds its meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. A sign language interpreter is at right.

The Lawrence school board on Tuesday approved the district’s approximately $17 million capital improvement plan for 2024-25 by a vote of 7-0, and also unanimously approved a five-year purchase agreement for a new curriculum resource for teaching elementary math.

The capital improvement plan, to be funded principally out of the district’s Capital Outlay Fund, is simply an overview of projects — basically a large, yearly to-do list — related to building maintenance, renovation, equipment procurement, technological needs and other items.

As Cynde Frick, the district’s executive director of finance, noted, any particular project under the plan’s umbrella, if it exceeds $20,000, would be formally bid and brought to the board separately for approval.

In a presentation to the board, Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick highlighted some of the district’s most pressing needs, such as replacing nine district vehicles, including four student vans for the two high schools and a one-ton box truck for food services, as well as four cargo vans; completing installation of infrastructure that would allow greater internet connectivity; replacing dated computers in middle school labs; replacing aging HVAC and boiler units, as well as worn roofing material at a handful of elementary schools; resurfacing tennis courts at the high schools; leasing copier equipment and other items. Englebrick noted that the particulars of the plan could change as needs arise.

In all, the general breakdown of the $17 million plan approved by the board is as follows: $8.8 million for facilities, $4.6 million for technology, $1.6 million for equipment and furniture, $875,000 for trade wages, $755,000 for discretionary spending at schools and $375,000 for instructional and athletic-related items, such as musical instruments and exercise equipment.

The plan represents an approximately $2 million increase over last year’s plan.

Frick told the board that spending the $17 million would leave nearly $11 million in the district’s capital outlay fund, which is primarily fed by revenue generated by the district’s tax levy of 8 mills. She said the financial organization Moody’s recommends maintaining an unencumbered cash balance of $8 million.

The board also heard a presentation from a group of educators who had been tasked with finding a new elementary math curriculum after the previous curriculum resource, “Math Expressions,” stopped publication and the need arose to address stagnating math performance in elementary schools.

The team researched options for the better part of a year and eventually landed on a hands-on program called “Open Up Math.” Over 70 local educators in five buildings participated in the pilot program this past spring and reported rave reviews to the board, with one instructor, Cynthia Emery of Quail Run Elementary, telling board members her young students were now proudly calling themselves “math nerds.”

The nonprofit’s curriculum program, which is said to “center equity,” focuses on a conceptual vs. a procedural approach to mathematics and prizes problem-solving and math “discussion” over more traditional methods like rote memorization.

The team also praised the program’s ability to be “customized” and its emphasis on professional development for teachers.

“It hasn’t been since 2010 (that) we went through a curriculum review in elementary math,” Denise Johnson, director of Elementary Curriculum, told the board, before the board approved the purchase agreement for a total cost of $723,849.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Unionized classified staff members in red shirts attend the Lawrence school board meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, where they urged the board to support a wage increase of $1.20 an hour.

Before the business portion of the meeting, the board heard from unionized classified staff members, primarily paraeducators, who pressed board members to address low wages in their ranks. Dozens of union members attended the meeting, and a handful urged the board during general public comment to support raising the hourly wage by $1.20.

Union members who said they made between $20,000 and $30,000 a year for demanding and essential work spoke of chronic understaffing and high turnover due to low wages.

As contract negotiations continue, board president Kelly Jones acknowledged the group’s presence and pleas.

“I want to recognize all the red shirts in the room,” she said, referring to the union members’ matching T-shirts. “We see you and appreciate you.”

Superintendent Anthony Lewis at meeting’s end also emphasized that staff wages were a priority for him.


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