On a Thursday in November of 2022, Dr. Elin Matthews, the newly hired superintendent for Lyons City Schools, shook his head. At the Board of Education meeting the previous night, budget data had contained numerous “anomalies,” particularly in reference to the student enrollment figures used to calculate the available revenue and planned expenditures for the school district. Matthews had called an emergency cabinet meeting for the next day to discuss these discrepancies, which he suspected represented more than just clerical errors.
Matthews had been the superintendent for little more than six months in Lyons, a beleaguered city in the southeastern U.S. The population of the city and the school district’s enrollment had been declining steadily over the previous decade, and the infrastructure of both the city and its schools had reached a crisis state. Nonetheless, Lyons City remained the largest school district in the state, serving approximately 19,400 students in 57 K-12 schools. Matthews had taken the job believing he could help turn around the struggling school district. He had been raised in a community very similar to Lyons and felt he understood the challenges the system was facing.
Matthews and the Board were grappling with how to deal with the declining enrollment and persistent deficits in the school budget. Differences in departmental assumptions about student enrollments seemed to be a key element in producing the discrepancies, and he wanted to hear from his fellow cabinet members. Besides presenting a consistent set of budget numbers, Matthews also believed the cabinet meeting would help him understand the revenue and cost trends confronting the district. The 2023-24 fiscal budget planning cycle was fast approaching.
During that cycle, the district faced several unpleasant options. The School Board President had called for a special meeting of the Board to discuss “right-sizing” the district. This had all been stoked by an "independent community-driven report" that showed comparisons of Lyons to other neighboring, similar school districts. The agenda could include proposals to consolidate schools, substantially reduce central office expenses, and/or freeze staff salaries. Matthews wondered what data and information he needed to choose the best option. Furthermore, he knew he would need a strategy for communicating with the Board, employees of the district, and the community about impending changes in the district.
Suggested Citation: Jason Willis, Jaan Elias, and Thomas Steffen, "Lyons City Schools," Yale Case 22-017, December 5, 2022.
*Lyons City is a disguised name for the school district. While this case is based on an actual incident, a number of details concerning the district have been altered to protect confidentiality.