Schools achieve despite more funding challenges

Evan Ollenburger, a member of the 2014 graduating class, shows some of the projects created on the 3D printer used in the Hillsboro High School technology department.
Evan Ollenburger, a member of the 2014 graduating class, shows some of the projects created on the 3D printer used in the Hillsboro High School technology department.

Even with ongoing budget cuts due to declining enrollment and state funding reductions, USD 410 Super?inten?dent Steve Noble believes the district did a good job of protecting classroom learning and student activities from feeling the pinch during 2014.

Now in his sixth year at the helm, Noble is quick to identify evidence of the district?s educational success by citing the academic honors students achieved last spring:

? ACT scores exceeded state scores in all categories in 2014.

? Hillsboro High School had a National Merit Scholarship finalist in Erin Wiebe.

? Twelve graduating seniors achieved the President?s Award for Educational Excellence, which was 32 percent of the graduating class.

? Seven graduates were named Kansas State Scholars and 15 were named Board of Regents Scholars.

? Beyond the classroom, HHS students achieved high ratings in state music and the arts, as well as success in district and state organizational activities.

? In athletics, HHS had multiple medal winners in state track and field, both boys? and girls? basketball teams qualified for state, and the softball team finished as state runner-up.

The downside of those high achievements, Noble said, is that patrons and parents are led to believe the district is doing just fine with less funding.

?I don?t think we fully understand, as a community, the significance of that funding challenge,? Noble said.

He noted a recent survey where 60 percent of local patrons indicated they believe their local schools are adequately funded to offer a high-quality public education.

Cuts that protect kids

In one sense, Noble takes pride in the public?s ?disconnect? with the actual situation.

?I?m proud of the fact that there?s almost a disconnect because it tells me our board has made cuts in places that are least visible to our patrons and kids, and least felt.

?We?re still having games, we?re still performing concerts, we?re still doing art shows in the spring, we?re still taking kids on field trips. We?re still going to FFA, FCCLA and TSA competitions. We still have Chess Club, book clubs, bike clubs, guitar clubs?and all these wonderful things we?re doing for kids, much of which is funded through donations from the public.?

Most patrons can?t see the negative impact of reduced funding, he added.

?The cuts have been made to the adults in this district, plain and simple,? Noble said. ?Cuts have been teaching, administrative, secretarials, cooks, custodial, librarians and counseling.

?We have fewer adults to help run the program.?

Noble also mentioned maintenance issues that have been delayed because of a lack of funds.

?Problems of aging facilities are significant,? he said, listing maintenance issues involving heating, ventilation, air conditioning, windows and doors, roof repair, structural issues at the elementary schools, the middle school gym floor and parking lots.

Another area where the district lacks is providing adequate counseling services for students.

?That?s my No. 1 concern, personnel-wise, in this school district,? Noble said. ?It is so important to provide adequate social and emotional counseling to all of our kids, (kindergarten) through 12. But equally important is to provide career and college readiness counseling for grades 5-12.?

Patrons are supportive

Noble said he appreciates the way USD 410 patrons have supported their schools through taxation.

During 2014, patrons overwhelmingly approved a board of education initiative to raise the local option budget from 31 percent. It is now 33 percent?but taxpayers actually received a break on their property taxes because of state equalization funding.

Later this year, the public will be asked to vote again, this time to make the 33 percent level permanent?a requirement of the Kansas Legisla?ture as a condition of the original initiative.

Noble said he also appreciates USD 410 patrons for their generous donations to a variety of school-related projects year after year.

One of the most high-profile projects was raising money to replace the playground at Hillsboro Elemen?tary School. To date, the parent-led movement has raised about $104,000. That includes a $25,000 grant from the Hillsboro Community Foundation and a $55,000 grant from the board of education.

Early in 2015, the playground project could receive a matching grant of up to $44,000 from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to provide safe, rubberized ground cover.

?We?re really, really close (to reaching the project target budget of $185,000),? Noble said. ?That has been an effort that has captured our community?s imagination.?

?Efficient schools?

Noble said the struggle for funding will continue in 2015 and possibly well beyond.

?It seems like the buzz word across Kansas, from a variety of folks, is that our schools need to run ?efficiently.??

Noble said people who favor a high-quality education need to understand what that actually means.

?Truly, what they?re saying is that school funding needs to be cut,? he said. ?Efficiency is cuts in disguise.

?I?m fine with efficient use of funds?and I hope we?ve been doing that. But let?s make sure we understand what our leadership in Topeka and across this state are talking about. They?re talking about cutting the amount of money they contribute to our schools. It means ?operate with less.?

?Learning is a very human endeavor,? he countered. ?It?s a very personal endeavor. I think our parents and public expect it to be that way. It?s not a cookie-cutter approach. Learning ought to be rich, it ought to be deep, it ought to be purposeful, meaningful and relevant to each and every single kid.

?If we talk about ?efficient? schools, we?ll get what we want: Incredibly cost-effective schools where the learning is surface level, cookie-cutter, and the same for everybody.

?I think that?s a terrible idea for America and for Kansas.?