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Lawrence Presents Optimistic Schools Budget

Administrators say education will be preserved, but some are skeptical about the district's future.

Lawrence School District administrators presented a rosy budget presentation to the community last week, claiming that despite a loss of $1.5 million in state aid, the financial plan enhances instructional programs and maintains the tax levy.

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment for the administration and teachers,” said Assistant Superintendent Gary Schall at the board of education’s meeting last Tuesday. “This is a chance for the community to unite behind the schools.”

Murray Forman, president of the school board, said the proposed budget “continues to have a ‘Goldie Locks’ approach.”

The total $92,980,154 budget includes the laying off of 42 civil service staff members that will save the district $1.5 million, which is part of a total savings of $2.2 million, according to school officials. The suggested tax levy will total $79 million for this year’s budget, which stays in line with past budgets under the current school board.

“We made these reductions in areas with the greatest cost savings,” Schall said. “It was extremely difficult making midyear cuts to staff. As we look to other districts, we were way ahead of the curve.”

As the School District 15 population shrinks due in large part to increasing private school enrollment, the board of education and parents of public school students have often come to loggerheads over how to handle the budget. The trustees wish to keep the tax levy low, while the opposition wants the community to pay more. The average budget increase over six years totals 0.88 percent.

“You guys are not only ahead of the curve — you’re with the curve,” said Andrew Levey, a parent and former school board candidate, at the meeting. “Put it to the community, a 2 percent tax increase. Sooner or later we’ll need a 10 to 15 percent increase.” He added that the district has been relying on less people to do more work and sales of buildings it has shuttered, like the most recently closed Number Six School, which has not yet gone on sale.

Jay Silverstein, Lawrence’s former director of guidance whose position was eliminated over a year ago and a one-time school board candidate, said the district is in trouble. “To say we’ve had a 0.6 percent increase in taxes is illusory. It’s a false perception; it’s a false reality,” he said to the board. “To say we’re on an upward trajectory is not true. What are these but not cuts? When a foul is committed, someone has to stand up and cry foul.”

The Lawrence Board of Education will vote on the adoption of the budget on March 22. The public gets it say on May 17.

Highlights of Lawrence’s budget presentation:

  • A breakdown of the close to $93 million budget: tax levy $79 million; state aid $6.5 million; various revenues including billings, tuitions and building use $3 million; estimated surplus $1.5 million; tax reserve $2.1 million; other reserves $950,000. The tax reduction reserve is $1,198,314.
  • In addition to a $1.5 million loss of state aid, the district also lost $700,000 in state grants.
  • Schall’s former position of director of music and one of his current roles, assistant superintendent of curriculum, will be eliminated. Two assistant administrators will be picked and voted on at the March meeting.
  • Expenditures for the 2010-11 are $94.1 million.
  • Non-public schools in the district will shift from using special education teachers to non-public school contractors.
  • Public school special education classes will also see changes. “We plan to restructure PPS by integrating classes with regular teachers and special education teachers,” said Director of Pupil Personnel Services Dr. Annette Szafranski. “Every child will continue to receive the appropriate services they need.”
  • The district will add a debate class and team, a virtual enterprise course, double periods of English and math and additional art classes at the high school. All AP courses will continue to run.
  • New clubs will be added at the elementary schools and high school.
  • Book allocation is 20 percent higher.
  • The high school will have a new school store.
  • The district set a goal to use $250,000 to upgrade all of its computers, and $45,000 will be used for e-readers at the high school.
  • Security systems at the middle school and high school will be upgraded.
  • Instead of summer school, Lawrence will now use an online credit recovery program. “It can be done online on students’ own time,” Schall said. “In addition to serving as a replacement to summer school, it will be a cost savings.”
Robert Renzullo July 25, 2011 at 05:30 AM
Dr. Annette Szfranski's program has a great deal of potential.The two new assistant administrators should be utilized to support teachers.If anything book allocations should be lower given the fiscal situation.With the saved monies hire a staff developer to help with creative teaching techniques that save money.All Lawrence programs could benefit from this.The new clubs sound like a great idea, look to community leaders for donations of materials.The technology allocations seem fair.You can't afford security upgrades, implement additional communication procedures.Try to speak to the appropriate State entities to have the 700,000 dollar grant restored.The tax levy can only be cut by 39.5 million to truly unite the district.The saved resources need to be allocated to staff at the Lawrence public schools, namely the civil service staff. With the additional funds the number 6 school should be reopened and remain public.The "non public school contractors" need to be placed exclusively in the private schools.If or when this becomes a problem due to lack of teacher preparation programming the answer can not be to take from the public schools who have "State certified educators." Have contractors work with you to help fix the core problems in your buildings.This plan would be a landmark compromise that would leave Lawrence's community united the way it should be.

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