Science teachers prepare for uncertain second semester after budget cuts

A roundtable discussion with science teachers Zach Casey, Clara Duncan and Marci Leushcen


Jack Ritter

A pile of receipts totaling over 750 dollars sits on one of Marci Leuschen’s classroom desks.

By Jack Ritter, Co-Editor-in-Chief of

Science teachers Zach Casey, Clara Duncan and Marci Leushcen spend out-of-pocket funds to support their student’s learning, like many other educators. In past school years, they’ve spent a few hundred getting last-minute supplies and resources for labs, classroom activities and simple fun.

After 2022’s round of budget cuts, they’ve spent almost triple the amount they usually do, just in the first semester.

“$300, $250 is probably close to what I was spending before,” said Casey, who teaches lab-heavy classes like AP Physics and Chemistry.

“This year has definitely been the most for me,” he added as he motioned towards a pile of receipts totaling over $750.

In the spring, the School Board approved a budget cut package that, among other things, cut building spending by 25%. Each department received this reduction in spending capabilities, but the cut pushed the science department deeper into a disadvantageous position.

As other departments and teachers grappled with the cuts, many educators set up Amazon shopping lists; it was a way for community members and fellow teachers to support each other during hard times. For example, math teacher Matthew Ellis created a wish list that purchased over $700 in classroom supplies.

However, science equipment, chemicals and lab materials cost a lot to purchase, upkeep and restock. And in dealing with controlled substances and special orders, the science department has to jump through many loops to prepare their classroom for fun, interactive labs that spark student excitement and push learning.

“Those labs take a lot of planning and forethought,” Duncan said. “And it’d be nice to just have a lump sum of money that we can use to purchase things we think of right before a lab day.”

“We were trying to plan out our labs,” Casey added. “Planning for this year has been almost impossible. Sometimes you have to adjust as you go along.”

The answer to the science department’s problems? A fundraiser!

In September, Duncan and Leuschen began planning for a Halloween-themed fundraiser. A scientific trick-or-treat for community members, free of charge with an optional donation. Students in the two teachers’ classes would get to decorate spaces to show trick-or-treaters fun and educating science experiments, and they’d give out candy too.

On September 29, a district staff member approved the fundraiser, and Leuschen and Duncan got to work planning and telling their students about the event.

On October 4, Leuschen received a new email telling her the fundraiser had been denied by the district Executive Leader Team (ELT).

“The Kansas State Department of Education provides guidance for school districts in the management of student activity funds for these co- and extra-curricular, student organization/club fundraising activities,” Julie Boyle, USD 497’s Director of Communication, told The Budget when asked for an explanation on the decision. “No guidance is provided for allowing classes or school departments to fundraise.”

The decision saddened Leuschen and her fellow science teachers.

“It’s not just us going out asking for money,” Leuschen said. “We’re having kids volunteer time to participate. It was also something for the community.”

District officials redirected Leuschen to the Lawrence Schools Foundation for funding and LHS PTO if they were going to go any further with the event. But Leuschen and others agreed that the already strained PTO shouldn’t have to shoulder another event.

The science department moved past Halloween without a fundraiser and continued to dive into their own pockets to make sure students still enjoyed the labs and activities.

But Leuschen’s New Year’s Resolution for the department will shake things up: Leuschen charged the science department and teachers to stop paying for supplies out-of-pocket during the upcoming semester. As a result, the entire department will suffer from supply deficiencies and a small budget.

“Learning will be limited with limited supplies,” Casey said. “Chemistry and biology use consumables that are used up every year.”

Casey theorized about different online programs they could use in their classroom, concluding that an online lab doesn’t come close to a real-life one.

“You can see what happened with COVID,” he said. “It’s not the same.”

While the department pushes into 2023, Duncan, among others, is still disappointed in the district’s decision to veto the event.

“It was going to be this fun-Halloween thing,” Duncan said. “We tried to be creative, and we were told we couldn’t be creative.”