July 20, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Lawrence paper continues to distort school budget numbers

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The Lawrence Journal-World has access to a full picture of USD 497’s budget but continues to report misleading budget numbers in its coverage of the Lawrence School District’s budget process.

As The Sentinel reported earlier this month, the Lawrence daily reported the school board was considering a $105.4 million overall budget, when in fact, the district’s full budget, available on its website reveals a summary of an anticipated budget of more than $178 million.

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert sent an email to Lawrence Journal-World editor Chad Lawhorn seeking explanation, but the paper’s editor responded that he didn’t see anything “nefarious” in the way the numbers were originally reported. He said the paper would address the issue as they continued to report on the district’s finances.

“And we also will do some thinking about how we want to describe the issue in future reports,” Lawhorn wrote in an email dated July 26.

However, the Lawrence Journal-World published a story on August 11 that repeated the misleading budget numbers. The story reads, “In July, the board gave initial approval to a budget proposal with an expected expenditure of $105.4 million, which is $4.3 million more than last year’s $101.1 million budget.”

The same budget numbers were again used in an August 12 story announcing that the school board had adopted the proposed 2020 budget.

The district’s budget and the proposed budget officials provided to the school board are available online. A slide show presentation shows that the district’s 2020 budget is $178 million and the actual spending for 2019 was $158 million — far more than the Lawrence paper reported.

Katharine S. Johnson, the district’s executive director of finance and the school board treasurer, wrote in an email to Sentinel, that the Journal-World’s initial budget story included figures from the general fund and the supplemental general fund budget and not the total budget.

“The portion of the budget being reported on was not clear in their article and those were the numbers the reporter chose to use for reporting the district budget at the time,” she wrote. “After the article, I had shared with the reporter that it would be helpful if he was only including those funds in his article to state that so it is clear as to what numbers were being reported on.”

The Sentinel reached back out to a Lawrence Journal-World editor to ask why the paper continues to mislead in its reporting on the school district budget. The Sentinel did not receive a response.

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