Budget challenges a common curriculum

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Continuing to provide high-quality educational experiences in Hillsboro for people of all ages and stages was an ongoing challenge in 2001. Not surprisingly, in a year of economic downturns nationally, many of those challenges were related to finances.

Communities in Schools

With its start-up grant money running out, Communities in Schools supporters spent part of 2001 lobbying for financial support from the various communities in the county so that CIS could continue to help fund a half-time position for director Linda Ogden.

CIS, in its second year, has provided after-school activities for children and classes for parents in Marion County. It also links with other agencies and programs when necessary.

By year’s end, the various communities of the county, including Hillsboro, were on board with some financial support.

USD 410

The prospect of a budget shortfall caught the attention of administrators and board members of Unified School District 410 around mid-year.

While initial changes were explored, including budget cuts and raising fees for some activities, they were put aside at least for the time being when additional funds were discovered within the budget.

Before the funding scare emerged, the school board in March approved its biggest facility-related investment of the year: the purchase and installation of a $300,000 computerized temperature control system for the high school and middle school.

A representative from EPM Inc., the company offering the package, said reductions in utility bills would pay for the system in about four years.

Gordon Mohn, superintendent, said the system has been “a real plus” for the district, even though it hasn’t performed quite at the level that was promised.

“What I like about the company is that it’s not saving us as many dollars as they thought it would,” he said. “So they’re out here and are working on it because they still think they can meet their goal and do what they told us they’d do.”

In the business of education itself, Mohn said a highlight of the year was the announcement that Hillsboro High School students had reached the state’s “Standard of Excellence” in three of four subject areas-only one of eight schools in the state to do so.

“To reach those three areas of the Standard of Excellence to me is not just a reason to celebrate the high school,” Mohn said. “It’s a reflection of things that have happened all the way through.”

He said for several years, he and others had been disappointed with the district’s math scores. To see significant improvement in that area was a gratifying accomplishment.

“We worked hard at it,” he said. “Our teachers in the elementary and middle schools took a risk and went with Chicago Math and Math in Context-and some people gave them fits about it.

“If you are a parent and you expect your child to be learning math the same way you learned math, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It took a lot of courage in the middle school especially to say we’re going to try it. I think it’s beginning to show up in our high school math scores.”

Mohn cited several significant personnel changes during 2001. The USD 410 Board of Education bid farewell to two members, Ted Russell and Bob Watson, who had served a combined 32 years.

“That transition has been really smooth and effective,” he said.

At the end of the 2000-01 school year, James Thomas resigned as activities director and assistant principal for HHS after 24 years of service. Max Heinrichs, a member of the faculty, was hired to succeed him.

“We’re lucky to get a guy like that,” Mohn said.

One of Thomas’s last pleasures in his role was to see the HHS boys track team win the Class 3A state track meet at Wichita.

One of Heinrich’s first pleasures was to watch the Trojan football team complete an undefeated regular season in fall.

Looking ahead to 2002, Mohn sees money as being a key issue again in light of budget short falls at the state level. He believes, though, USD 410 will be spared any cuts for at least a year if the Legislature doesn’t lower the base budget for each student.

“We’re fortunate if they stay even,” Mohn said. “With us being in the last year of the lease-purchase agreement on the tech center, we’ll have a year there with $165,000 that will get freed up. If you have to commit that to salaries, though, you can’t do innovative things like a tech center.”

The district also has some cash reserves that could be drawn upon in a pinch. He said the district should spend money prudently, but not just for basic needs.

“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t stop doing innovative things,” he added. “You can move from being a leader to being behind real quick.”

Two facility projects that will need to be addressed in the not too distant future are repairs at the Tabor College track and upgrading the kitchen at the elementary school.

Marion Co. Learning Center

How state budget shortfalls will affect the Marion County Learning Center is yet to be seen, said Sharon Suderman, site director.

“I’m sure we’ll still be here next year,” she said.

The Learning Center specializes in providing computer-based classes for people past the traditional high school age who want to earn their diploma.

This year the program has drawn a record number of participants-about 33 students enrolled in a full-time class load.

Diane Meisinger joined the staff in 2001 as a full-time coordinator and is working to develop a lot of the curriculum the program offers.

One area Suderman has been disappointed in is the computer-based training the center can offer the community in various computer application programs.

“I wish more people would come in for that because I would really like to see these computers occupied,” she said. “A lot of centers across southcentral Kansas are using it, but so far it hasn’t been a big thing here.”

Tabor College

At Tabor College, Hillsboro’s private post-secondary institution, a key source of funding is student tuition, not state money. In that regard, the news was mixed in 2001.

The school registered a smaller than anticipated freshman class of around 107 this past fall. But the good news was that the school operated at or near record-level retention rates, according to President Larry Nikkel.

“We’ve had, in my words, disappointing freshman classes the last two years,” Nikkel said. “If we could have had 150 to 200 incoming classes those years and had that kind of retention, we’d be having a big (student housing) problem around here by now.”

Even so, new residential housing is a priority need on the campus and Nikkel expects the school’s board of directors will authorize a significant capital campaign when it meets next month-but will likely defer on the details of that campaign until later.

“That means we can get the capital campaign structure into place and work on advance gifts.”

Nikkel said completing his portion of the feasibility study for such a campaign was very encouraging.

“I have to tell you that’s been the most fun thing I’ve done since I’ve been here,” he said. “Not so much because of the result it’s yielding because we don’t know that yet. But we had some 30 meetings in nine states in front of 600-and-some people.”

Another source of revenue for the college is private donations. Nikkel said he was pleased to see the number of Tabor Society members grow from 392 to 439.

“That’s the backbone of our annual fund and to see that continue to get stronger can only mean good news,” he said.

Another highlight in 2001 was the growing success of the Tabor College-Wichita program, now in its eighth year.

“The first five years we accumulated deficits,” he said. “The last three years, we’ve not only operated with a surplus, but we’ve operated with an adequate surplus to remove the previous five years of deficits. It’s doing well financially and programmatically.”

Nikkel also cited continuing improvements in the college’s athletic programs.

“By that not only do I mean in the wins and losses column,” he said. “That for sure. But I also mean the quality of coaches and athletes. We’re trying hard to recruit people who want to graduate from Tabor College. Academically, they’re well prepared and well motivated.”

By way of new programs, Nikkel noted the first “RN to BSN” class in Wichita, where nurses who have a two-year degree in the field can earn their bachelor’s.

“That was nice to have that started,” he said.

Meanwhile, another relatively new program will reap its first graduates in May when Tabor conveys its first master’s in education degrees.

This week, representatives from Tabor and Hesston colleges will sign an articulation agreement between the two schools. The agreement will create what Nikkel calls a “seamless system” for Hesston graduates wanting to transfer to Tabor.

“All their credits will transfer,” Nikkel said. “We are growing in the number of Hesston transfers we’re getting.”

Learning in Retirement

Tabor’s Learning in Retirement Program, under the direction of Connie Isaac, continues to serve the most seasoned students in Hillsboro and the surrounding area.

“We would like to be thought of as a place for mental stimulation and fellowship and just fun for older adults,” Isaac said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time-an hour and five minutes on Thursday morning.”

This fall she said they had well over 100 participants take out a $15 membership for the semester.

“It had been going up profoundly, but last semester wasn’t quite so good,” she said. Two large funerals drew many members of the class.

Isaac said one of her goals is to get speakers and programs that people in the area don’t have a chance to experience very often. She also likes to have one program a semester that focuses on one of the communities in Marion County. This spring, the focus will be on Ramona.

“I am excited about hearing what other communities in Marion County are doing,” she said.

She said seniors from other communities are encouraged to participate in the program.

“We’ve been getting people mostly from Marion County, but also outside of it-Harvey, Morris, sometimes Dickinson and McPherson counties.” n

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