Received a communication from D. Scott Connor, member of the Liberty School Board.
This is the second in a series of communications that I plan to send to you regarding issues affecting LPS. I want to continue to communicate with you as the Board of Education makes important decisions over the next few years.
There are two items on which I want to bring you up-to-speed:
1. Transportation Audit
2. Facility Master Plan
We are working hard to look at every line item of our budget in order to manage our costs. As you probably know, government funding for many public school districts is dropping, as is the assessed value of personal property in our community (and most others around the country). As a result, LPS District revenues are dropping. In order to maintain our current level of service in the classrooms we are inspecting EVERY line item in our budget for cost-saving opportunities.
During the past few months (and especially during the last political campaign for school board seats), the Transportation department received a lot of criticism, much of it focused on costs. Transportation accounts for about 4.3% of our overall budget, so when I joined the Board I simply asked that we begin an in-depth budget analysis, and start with Transportation. The BOE agreed and signed an $8,000 contract with a nationally-known company in Lee’s Summit (TransPar Group, www.transpar.com) to complete a comprehensive study of our transportation department and make a recommendation to us on how we can best serve our students and also keep our costs down. Although we continued to communicate this as a study to simply outline our costs and identify areas for improvement, many bus drivers, parents and patrons were concerned about outsourcing our busses to a vendor. Outsourcing was never the goal, but it was small possibility so some understandably voiced their concerns.
During the Monday, October 18th LPS BOE meeting we received the results of this audit (full report available below…referenced exhibits can be found on the website). I am happy to share the following quote from this report: “It is our conclusion greater savings can be achieved by addressing system fundamentals than by obtaining lower unit costs from a contractor.” The report lists several items that I consider to be “good news”:
1. We will not need to look at outsourcing our busses, but will look at other items for improvement to help further reduce our costs.
2. Confirms what we already knew: We have many excellent employees in this department (another quote: “The LPS staff was at all times helpful and cordial. Their bias to serve and to satisfy expectations was readily evident”)
3. Administration’s past decisions to alter the bell-time structure and implement more efficient bus routes are literally “paying off”
This audit / study is just one example of the work we are doing to identify opportunities for cost reductions. As we move forward with the budget review process I am hopeful that we all remember this is a necessary part of running a business, and that “studying” a particular part of our budget does not necessarily mean we are looking to outsource it. I believe the Board of Education must do this difficult work even when it is unpopular, and that we will continue do so with the long-term well-being of the District in mind.
I will keep you informed as we look at other areas (up next: RFP process to bid the broker process for a large portion of the District’s employee benefits package).
FACILITY MASTER PLAN
There is still much work to do in this area, but I want to give you an update on progress to date. As many of you know, we have just opened our second high school (Liberty North) and have surpassed 11,000 students in our district. Our 2010 graduating class had 652 graduates, while our kindergarten class in 2011 is expected to exceed 1,000. Four of our youngest five classes exceed 900 students. This “wave” of students will begin hitting our middle schools in just a couple of years.
In order to keep up with district growth and also deal with our revenue shortages that are expected over the next few years, we have asked Administration to “get creative” and “think outside the box” when developing options for the District’s facility needs. I continue to ask that we put “all options” on the table and communicate them to our patrons (including costs of each). Some of these options sound a little ridiculous and will likely *not* be considered for actual implementation (for example: invest in relatively inexpensive real estate at I-435 and Front Street and bus some students out of the District to this location). Some options would save the District money, but have challenges that many of us believe would outweigh any cost savings. However, I believe it is important that our patrons know “we are leaving no stone unturned” and are open to their (your) ideas and suggestions.
Another issue being discussed is to reduce the number of “transitions” that each student has to make throughout their academic career in Liberty by utilizing a three-transition model (K-5 elementary, 6-8 middle, 9-12 high school). Currently we have a four-transition system (K-5 elementary, 6-7 middle, 8-9 jr high, 10-12 high school). Implementing a three-transition model would likely involve the following:
- build-out of additional space at Liberty North to accommodate 9-12 grades (cheaper to add-on to an existing building than to build a new facility somewhere)
- Possible re-purposing of Blue Jay tower to accommodate additional LHS classes
- build a new elementary school west of I-35, in the NW part of the District (west of I-35 is where the majority of the growth is)…demographer estimates suggest the need for yet another elementary school long-term.
- Keep all elementary schools as K-5.
- Convert the following four existing buildings into four separate “middle schools” (6-8 grade): SVMS, SVJH, LMS, LJH
- Move 9th grade to the high schools (to join 10, 11, and 12th grade)…there are several good academic / curriculum reasons to do this, but some concerns as well.
- ** this could also allow us to go back to a true “feeder system” so that each elementary school and middle school would align with a particular high school (another popular request from patrons, including me).
Yet another option would be to go to a K-4 elementary schools west of I-35 (where the majority of our growth is occurring), and build a “5th grade center” just NE of Shoal Creek. This presents other challenges such as inconsistent elementary models across the district (some K-4, some K-5), and it introduces yet another transition for kids on the west side of I-35.
I believe anything we do will require an operating levy increase (tax increase to property owners). What we don’t know yet is “how much”. And to be clear, absolutely NO decisions have been made on this. We are still reviewing all ideas and options, and YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY to be heard on this issue. The District will be hosting public sessions to gather input (ideas, concerns, questions, etc.) into this process:
- Nov 3, 6:30-8:00pm (at the District Administration Center)
- Nov 10, 6:30-8:00pm (at Shoal Creek Elementary)
Many other things happening, but just trying to keep you informed on the high-interest items as we move forward. Board meetings are televised on KLPS-18 beginning the Thursday following each BOE meeting, 8am daily for one week. Or you can visit the website at http://www.boarddocs.com/mo/lpsdmo/Board.nsf/vpublic?open and click on whichever meeting is of interest to you.
If you have suggestions, comments or questions for me I’d like to hear from you (e-mail or 816-415-3022). Thanks for “listening”, and for being a supporter of our excellent school district.
Here is the transportation report mentioned above. Liberty School District Transportation Report