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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lawrence Public Schools is considering closing schools to keep up with funding cuts due in part to declining enrollment.

District leaders say four scenarios are on the table for the Board of Education to deal with this. All involve closing schools and/or shuffling students to other schools in the district.

“I want to reiterate again, these are only scenarios, starting points,” said Dr. Larry Englebrick, the district’s interim chief operations officer.  “No decisions have been made; no recommendations have been made.”

Englebrick made the comments at a Boundary Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday.

“The budget conversations we’re having and the need for reductions is a direct result of student enrollment and enrollment weighting, dropping,” Executive Finance Director Kathy Johnson added

Johnson said the funding gap going into the 2022-23 school year is likely between $3.2-3.7 million.

The school mentioned more than all the others in the proposals is Broken Arrow Elementary, which the district said was chosen because the building needs the most improvements and it fits their size requirements.

“To have her elementary school closed again, it’s a kick in the gut because now it’s just that much longer for her to go to school, and that much longer on a bus,” Lawrence parent Kristy Bellinger said.

Bellinger’s 2nd-grader could be moved from Broken Arrow to Schwegler Elementary. She already rides a bus for an hour and half every day.

“A two-hour bus ride is what they’re proposing for this school,” Bellinger said.

Bellinger is a part of the Facebook group, “Save Lawrence Neighborhood Schools,” which boasts nearly 1,000 members. Their message to the school district is simple.

“Look at any other option aside from closing schools,” Bellinger said.

The school board is hoping to hold public hearings by the Feb. 14 board meeting and then have a plan in place in the coming months.

FOX4 reached out for comment and received this response from Lawrence School Board President Erica Hill:

The district faces a financial deficit of an estimated $3.2-$3.85 million after an enrollment drop of 597.5 Full-Time Equivalency between fall 2019 and fall 2021, and a corresponding loss of state aid. The board indicated (not via board action) it would explore options to identify more than double that amount of budget cuts (~$7 million) to bridge the gap and support district priorities, including student learning and support, replenishing contingency reserves, and improving staff compensation.

The district shared this in a community message: The board’s Boundary Advisory Committee (BAC) met yesterday to begin looking at data and scenarios for potential boundary shifts related to BPEC school closure proposals. The BAC is made up of representatives of the board, administration, teachers and staff, Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, city planning office, First Student transportation, and the community. BAC members reviewed the district’s 20-year enrollment history, patterns of growth/decline, county live births and conversion rates, projections, and building capacities and utilization.

The BAC discussed four initial boundary change scenarios related to possible school closures:

1) Broken Arrow (repurposed for Billy Mills Middle School expansion), New York, Pinckney, Woodlawn, and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School (repurposed as an elementary school).

2) Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and either Scenario 3 or 4.

3) Broken Arrow and Woodlawn (a stand-alone scenario or combined with Scenario 2).

4) Broken Arrow and New York (a stand-alone scenario or combined with Scenario 2).

Data and technology staff are working on a fifth scenario involving Hillcrest, per the ESOL subcommittee’s proposal. The BPEC, BAC, and board may modify or request additional scenarios.

BAC (4-5 p.m.) and BPEC (5-6:30 p.m.) will meet again on January 19. The board meets at 6 p.m. January 24. All meetings are open to the public.

These committees are diverse and bring various perspectives into the discussion – in addition, an equity analysis will be done on each proposal that is brought to the board for consideration.

The board will need to make tough decisions in the coming weeks, because the district must identify significant cuts to make ends meet. We acknowledge that loss may be felt throughout the community related to the upcoming budget decisions, whether it’s from closing a school or cutting a program. The district will continue to update the community as we navigate through these challenging discussions.

No proposals have been recommended to the board for consideration, so no board action has been taken on any of the proposals.

Email from Erica Hill

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