USD 408 perseveres amid challenges

Marion High School vocal music instructor Tim Cassidy leads the performance at the 2013 fall music concert. Despite current financial challenges, Superintendent Lee Leiker says the most important goal at USD 408 is still to provide students with a high-quality education that will prepare them for a productive future.Even with record lows in student enrollment and challenges due to shrinking budgets, Marion School District 408 is not wavering in its educational goals.

Lee Leiker, USD 408 superintendent, said the most important goal is still to provide students with a high-quality education that will prepare them for a productive future.

?It is an opportunity to look at ourselves and say, ?How are we doing the best we can for our students with the resources available??

?And that?s what it?s all about,? he said.

The numbers

After an enrollment last year of 534 students, this year the number is 506.

?In September of 2004 we were at 641,? Leiker said, ?We have gone from 641 down to 506 in 10 years.?

To compound the challenge, the base state aid per pupil has decreased, too.

?It has stabilized in that we were at $3,838 per student, and we have stayed there now for a couple of years,? Leiker said. ?The projection is for it to go up a little bit next year to $3,852.?

But that?s less than the $4,433 the state paid per student in 2009.

?We get hit, in a sense, twice?first because the state?s funding is a smaller amount, and second because of fewer students. It?s hurting in two ways,? he said.

Increasing expenses

While aid is decreasing, expenses continue to increase. From this year to next year, Leiker said costs will increase by $250,000.

How the shortfall will be made up is yet to be determined, he added.

?As we get into the spring, we will look at all of our options and make the best decisions, keeping the students? best interest in mind,? he said.

As for reductions, Leiker said he can?t say they are looking at any one item.

?I can say funding and the budget will continue to be major issues or hurdles our district is going to have to overcome,? he said.

Leiker said the district has faced a similar challenge for the past several years, adding that some years they faced a deficit larger than $250,000.

?It?s not anything new for our district, unfortunately,? he said.

Leiker said three major factors are influencing the district?s expenses next year.

?Our own health insurance is probably going to go up, some of the results of the Affordable Health Care Act,? he said.

The second issue is that the Marion County Special Education Cooperative is going to have to provide health insurance for all of its paraprofessionals. Leiker said that is a good thing, but there is a cost to it.

?All five school districts involved in the special education cooperative will need to absorb the cost,? he said.

Leiker said the third issue is declining enrollment.

?As far as our budget, it will be down 20 students (next year) and that will have a significant impact,? he said.

Financially sound

Although the district will face increased budget expenses in the spring, Leiker said patrons don?t have to panic.

?I would tell you in no way, shape or form is our district in financial trouble,? he said. ?Our district is in very good financial shape and we try to stay ahead of what we see as the problems coming down the road. If we weren?t to do anything, it would catch up to us.?

Being a good steward of the dollars is something the district strives to do, he added.

?We watch it very closely, and that has kept us in very good financial shape so that we are able to do the best we can for students.?

Classification shift

The MHS football team won a Class 3A bi-district championship last fall. Next fall, Marion football will compete in  Class 2A as a result of declining enrollment.Marion High School football, for the next two years, is moving from Class 3A to Class 2A, Leiker said.

Although the district is 2A in football, it will probably remain 3A in all other sports?but he said he won?t know that for sure until next fall?s enrollment.

Football is based on grades 9, 10 and 11; all other activities are based on grades 9, 10, 11 and 12.

?We were smaller in 9, 10 and 11 and went to 2A in football for the next two years,? he said. ?It could change again for two years and an increase in enrollment would mean going back to 3A.

?There is no advantage being 2A,? he added. ?It is mainly classification. We still have to win ball games and we are still playing the same people we would have played anyway.?

One of the challenges in changing from 3A to 2A is scheduling enough games.

?Scheduling for football is difficult in that your district is set, and then you have to see what teams are available the same weeks you are available to play,? he said.

?The other factor is that in 2A there are five district games where in 3A there are only three district games.?

In spite of the challenges, scheduling is moving forward, Leiker said.

?We are in good shape, but scheduling for football is very difficult.?

He said one football game will be at Meade next year, which is a long trip, he added. The following year, Meade travels to Marion.

Maintaining the fleet

The district?s 15 buses and 15 passenger vehicles are in good shape, according to Leiker.

In addition to keeping the fleet maintained, another advantage is that the buses and vehicles are built to travel more miles.

?We also have all vehicles parked inside and it makes a tremendous difference on the life of them, especially in this cold weather,? he said.

The 30 vehicles are stored in a bus barn on the east end of town.

Other accomplishments

Leiker said District 408 is proud of its accomplishments. Those include:

? scoring well on the state assessments and ACTs. Leiker said he credits teachers for their hard work and the students for their successes.

? outstanding facilities and educational programs while looking at ways to continually improve. Technology is a big factor, Leiker said, and the district is trying to enhance it. The board is discussing providing laptops to students as a way to better serve their educational needs.

? continuing to maintain a class size of 15 to 20 students. In the elementary grades, Leiker said there are two sections.

?We are just at the size we need to have for those two sections,? he said. ?Our average on class size has gone down, but we are in the upper 30s or about 38 (split into two sections).?

? working with Homestead Affordable Housing on remodeling September Apart?ments. ?The construction technology class students are working with HAH, giving them the skills and opportunities through the course,? he said.

? taking a proactive stance against bullying by becoming involved in the Anti-Bullying Program at all buildings (K-12).

?Not that it was a problem, but all schools have to address it and we have addressed it with a K-12 program,? Leiker said.

? helping students academically through the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support program at Marion Elementary School.

?I am proud of our staff at how hard they are working on this and the anti-bullying program,? he said.

? an entrepreneur class with students making lip balm. Leiker said the students in Megan Thomas? class make the product in a variety of flavors and sell it.

?The students started from scratch as far as developing a business and business plan,? he said.

The seed money to start the business was provided by local banks, he added.

? a business class where students print programs for sporting events, rosters and other in-house jobs.

? dual credit classes involving Butler Community College. Several of these class are offered so students can get high school credit along with college credit.

?It helps students as they go to college to have some of those hours taken care of before they do go to college.?

? a coffee shop in the high school library open before, during and after school.

?The coffee shop is run by students and serves coffee, cappuccino and freshly baked cookies,? Leiker said. ?This is the second year it?s been open.?

Leiker said he believes the district teachers and staff are doing great things with the programs available.

?Our students have tremendous opportunities,? he said.

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