Board ponders ways to balance district budget

Because the Kansas Legislature only slightly increased the base budget per pupil, the USD 410 Board of Education spent much of its meeting Monday considering ways to decrease spending and increase revenue.

The base budget is the amount of state funding allotted per pupil to each school district. Student enrollment determines how much funding a district receives.

The bill passed by the legislature this session increased the base budget by $50, from $3,820 to $3,870. However, because USD 410 is on a downward trend in enrollment, adequate funding could be a problem next year.

Board members were told local enrollment is projected to drop about 10 students again next year. Even with the base-budget increase, the general fund of USD 410 is expected to receive only an additional $22,696, or about a 0.5 percent increase.

The increase will not cover the projected $100,000 shortfall in next year’s general fund.

In addition, increases in the cost of health-insurance, rising energy costs, teacher salary negotiations, and other projected expenses could result in a serious financial problem for the district, according to Gordon Mohn, USD 410 superintendent.

“The lack of any significant increase in funding from the state legislature will require that the district consider ways to better use existing funds, increase revenue, and/or reduce current spending,” his report to the board stated.

Various ideas for reducing spending and increasing revenue were presented to the school board to combat this problem.

Those ideas included eliminating assistant coaches, activity programs, and athletic programs; reducing staff; cutting transportation; and reducing supplies.

Ideas to enhance revenue included increasing textbook rental fees and student fees; assessing a towel fee at the high schools; charging students a fee to play sports; and adding a drivers’ education fee.

Mohn encouraged the school board to examine the options. The district’s administrative team will compile a list of priorities for savings and revenue.

The approaching negotiations with teachers will require additional funding, too. The negotiations cover raises, salaries and other payment increases.

Mohn’s recommendation for funding salary negotiations included an increase in the local option budget (LOB). The district is authorized to have a local option budget that is equal to 25 percent of their general fund. The LOB is funded by local taxes.

According to Mohn, the best solution is to increase the LOB to its full potential of 25 percent, raising an additional $262,571 for the district. This revenue would be used primarily for teacher negotiations, and is needed to keep the district financially competitive.

Also, the additional revenue could minimize activity and program cuts later. Mohn said this was the best option when focusing on the needs of the students.

“If I don’t advocate that, then I don’t work for the kids,” Mohn said.

Health insurance increases are part of the financial problem facing the district. Currently, the district is enrolled in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, which has increased its rates.

In response, USD 410 has solicited bids from five insurance companies. These bids are due May 15 and a decision will be made sometime after that.

In other business, the entire school board made the short trip to Hillsboro Elementary School to visit the cafeteria.

At the April meeting, cafeteria staff reported problems and needs with the facility.

Judy Hiebert, head cook, and Judy Penner led a tour of the kitchen facilities, pointing out the various problems.

The problems include a need for more water sources and refrigeration/freezing space as well as a lack of storage. Currently, only one water source is available for food preparation.

“It’s not acceptable according to our state regulations,” Penner said.

Refrigeration/freezer units were also identified as problem. Penner described one refrigerator as “past its prime.”

“That’s not keeping our food at the proper temperature,” she said.

About 10 people crowded into the small food-storage closet to demonstrate the lack of storage space. As a result, the kitchen can carry only a week’s supply of food, preventing staff from taking advantage of cost-saving opportunities.

The group then traveled outside to view possibilities for expanding the facility.

When the delegation returned from the tour, members discussed various possibilities for change. Mohn proposed three solutions: add on to the current facility; build a new facility; or simply consolidate all district facilities into a central unit.

As the board discussed the options, the majority leaned in favor of some sort of consolidation.

“It may be that we should spend the money for an addition,” said Robert Watson, board member. “I just don’t think the timing is appropriate.”

Mohn proposed having an architect evaluate the facility before early fall with an eye toward consolidation.

“It’s not ideal, it’s not a good situation…but we’ve fed our kids there for a long time,” Mohn said.

The board passed a recommendation to purchase 47 new computers for $31,960. The recommendation came after a long discussion about the purchase in the light of the impending financial struggles.

The board approved this proposal after agreeing that computers and current technology are items that should not be considered in spending cuts.

The board received and approved two resignations: Kristina Roth, teacher of family and consumer sciences at the high school; and Taryn Jost, middle school girls’ basketball coach.

Two new contracts were issued. Kory Unruh, presently employed at Tabor College, will teach physical education, health and drivers’ education. Unruh will also serve as the assistant high school boys’ basketball coach and assistant track coach.

Matt Carroll has accepted a contract as technology instructor at HHS. Carroll also will serve as tech facilitator and weight-room supervisor.

The position for a family and consumer sciences instructor is still vacant, Mohn said.

A schedule for training and orienting new board members was approved. These sessions cover topics such as finance, legal issues, curriculum, and district vision and beliefs.

The board also discussed an inspection of the facilities by the Kansas Fire Marshall. Although a written report had not been received yet, Mohn summarized some issues raised by the marshall.

One issue concerned Brown Gymnasium. According to the fire marshall, the gym is 88 inches short of having adequate door width in comparison to seating capacity.

This is the first time this issue has been raised in the many years since the gym was built, Mohn said.

The fire marshall recommended that either seating capacity be cut by 500 or the current door width be expanded by 88 inches.

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