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Schools Superintendent takes questions on squeezed school finances

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From the Lawrence Journal World Newspaper

July 26, 2009
By Christine Metz

If state funding continues to deteriorate, Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll said the size of classes could be in jeopardy.

“I can honestly say, we don’t have a whole lot of room on the list of what is left without cutting classroom teachers,” Doll said.

Doll’s comments were made Saturday morning during a meeting with the League of Women Voters of Lawrence/Douglas County that focused on education funding. Doll was joined by Mark Tallman, assistant executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Like any good classroom teacher, the new superintendent illustrated his points with visual aids: buckets demonstrating the many different pots of money the school district pools from for funding. “It’s confusing, it’s really confusing,” Doll said.

And, with such a complicated subject, the two men received plenty of questions from the audience about school financing. Some were directed at the school district’s recent decision to stop busing children who live within 2.5 miles of their school, a cut that saved about $450,000.

The school district has also had to find other ways to accommodate a $3 million drop in funding — eliminating the mental health support program and reducing the amount of clerical and janitorial staff. “You don’t cut $2.5 or $3 million without going pretty deep,” Doll said. “All the cuts made for the programs and people involved have been really, really painful.”

What the school has been able to do is keep classroom teachers, which maintains class sizes at existing levels. But Doll questioned how long that would last if funding continues to decline.

And the cuts have left the school district with a “bunker-like mentality,” which leaves little time and energy for creative thinking and innovative programming, Doll said. “You want us thinking about how we can do a better job educating our kids, … but what we are really thinking about is how do we make this next painful cut without hurting kids too much,” he said. “It isn’t good.”

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