Former USD 408 superintendent Lee Leiker lived up to his promise of leaving the district in good shape during his 13 years of service.
His successor, Aaron Homburg, said during his first eight months as the new superintendent, the time has been put to good use getting to know the administrative staff, teachers and students.
“People in the community have been very positive, and willing to help (when and where needed),” he said.
In last year’s interview regarding the overall health of the district, Leiker said the facilities staff and financials are “solid.”
“It is an opportunity for the new superintendent to come in and be successful, and not a situation where Aaron will have to make tough decisions (immediately),” Leiker said.
Homburg said Leiker told him the district is where he wanted it to be when the superintendency happened.
“He did a fine job,” Homburg said about Leiker.
While there aren’t any major problems, Homburg said, there are problems with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning with some in the elementary, middle and high school buildings.
“Anytime we are dealing with HVAC it isn’t cheap, and we’ve had a lot of people working on them,” he said. “The boiler in the high school also heats the Hill Building, and it’s very old, and is nearing the end of its efficiency.”
Whenever the district is paying out thousands of dollars in repairs, Homburg said, sometimes it’s better to replace the unit with a new one.
The advantages of having new HVAC units in the buildings include better efficiency, which means lower bills, a warranty as opposed to spending so much money on repairing a unit that isn’t worth it, he said.
Another area Homburg said is going to need attention is the transportation budget and adding another bus to the fleet.
“We have some buses nearing the end of their time,” he said. “An average lifespan is 25 years, and we are pushing close to that.”
A new bus can cost between $70,000 to $90,000.
Homburg said the district needed to replace one bus in fall because the automatic lift stopped working.
“These are all things we need to keep up on because most of the routes are rural routes with some of those leaving by 6:20 a.m.” Homburg said. “One of the main reasons the buses leave early isn’t mileage, but sometimes the driver has a lot of stops.”
As with most years, Homburg said the board looks at what big expenditures are coming, and the fixed costs already in the budget. Those line items, he said, include salaries, transportation costs, food service and utilities.
Not a lot is leftover for discretionary spending, and when something happens that is completely unexpected, like in summer 2017, a contingency plan is good to have.
“We displaced 500 bats this (school) year and I never thought I would have to deal with (the nocturnal, flying mammal),” Homburg said.
The cost to have Rick Crump with Critter Corner of Wichita remove the bats was about $20,000, he said.
Maybe not as dramatic as 500 flying mammals, he said, but there’s always something that will come up unexpected.
Tod Gordon, principal at Marion High School is retiring at the end of the school year, Homburg said.
After learning about it, a principal search was successful with the hiring of Travis Rodgers, who will be starting in July.
“When Tod announced his plans to retire, it worked out well because it gave the board time to do a thorough principal search,” Homburg said.
Technology is key
Homburg said he believes the district has to be “big into technology.”
“We can’t have our kids leave here and go to college or into the workforce or wherever they may go, and not have seen or been able to use that technology,” he said.
Homburg said the district needs to stay in the forefront of technology, and one way of doing that is to have teachers trained so students have the competitive edge needed when they enter into the workforce.
“Every student has a Chromebook, which is a type of laptop, but it needs Internet to make it work,” he said.
USD 408 is in its first of five outcomes in the Kansans Can School Redesign Program.
“In the state of Kansas this is a new accreditation process,” Homburg said.
At this point, the district is developing goals and objectives.
One of the goals is tracking Marion students after graduation regarding their success rate, high school graduation rate amend effective rate, he said.
“The goal of having graduation rate very high is something Marion has always worked on, and our rate is very high,” he said.
The district is continuing to learn more about the process. Homburg said one thing the Kansas State Board of Education is going to be looking at is how successful students are when they leave MHS over a two-year period.
“We want all of our students successful, and to give them the tools to go into craft schools, Wichita or Washburn Institute of Technology or Wichita Area Technical College, a university, the (U.S.) Army or whatever,” he said.
All schools will need to get between a 70-75 percent effective rate, Homburg added, which is the calculated graduation rate (using 95 percent) multiplied by the calculated success rate, based on a five-year average.
One test where the numbers continue to climb for USD 408 students, he said, are the ACT or American College Testing scores.
“Kudos to our students, their parents and our teachers,” he said. “It shows we are doing good things in Marion.”
Enrollment is holding steady with 523 full-time equivalency (students) calculated for all grade levels.
Homburg said he is learning a lot by going into the classrooms on a daily basis.
“We have teachers doing wonderful things with students,” he said. “Our academics are also very high, and we are doing well in athletics.”
Homburg also recognized the fine arts programs, forensics and how the state Scholars Bowl team is statebound.
“It will be the first time in 10 years the team is going to state, and it just happened two weeks ago,” he said.
Proactive school board
Homburg said he is fortunate to have a proactive group of people on the board: Nick Kraus, board president, Katherine Young (who replaced Chris Sprowls), Doug Regnier, Jan Helmer and Dwayne Kirkpatrick.
“Our board wants to help teachers and students be successful,” he said.
Homburg sited the FFA community garden as another success.
Homburg said he and wife Nichol have two daughters and one son. KaiLee is 22; son August is 20 and Terran is 18.
Homburg said one of his biggest challenges is learning everybody’s name.
“I came from a district with 23 full-time staff, to in excess of 50, and from 150 students to 500-plus students,” he said.
Mark Lockhart is the instructor of the industrial/ag education and eighth-grade woods and industrial technology. Homburg said last fall the district took possession of the CNC (computer numerical control) router.
Lockhart said the CNC router can “level the playing field” and motivate Marion students.
“Our programs center on hands-on, real-world projects that help students understand how the information and skills they are learning in the classroom could be applied in everyday life,” Lockhart said.
This newest piece of technological equipment cost the district about $8,000, and Lockhart said once something is drawn up, the CNC router doesn’t make mistakes.
“It took between 16 and 18 hours to do the three-dimensional horse, which is actually inlaid about an inch in depth,” he said.
Lockhart said he is working on the Warrior head and is wanting to get it converted from two-dimensional to three-dimensional.