LaHarpe school to close

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

LaHarpe Elementary School will close at the end of the spring semester.
USD 257 board members voted 5-1 Tuesday evening to shutter the school in the face of a revenue shortfall of at least $300,000 for the 2009-10 school year. Darrell Catron, Gas, cast the negative vote.
Closing the LaHarpe school is expected to save nearly $90,000 in utilities and associated costs. The school opened in 1977 after construction was approved by referendum in November 1976, 1,842 to 1,836.
Board members also voted not to renew the contracts of two teachers, Maria Hernandez, high school physical education, and Lindsay Brown, Jefferson fourth-grade, and reassigned two other teachers as instructional coaches.
Those decisions are expected to save about $160,000 in general fund expenditures.
While the two reassigned teachers, Angie Linn, LaHarpe first grade, and Deb Atherton, McKinley fifth grade, will remain on the district payroll, their compensation will be paid from federal stimulus money flowing through Title I. Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools, said paying instructional coaches with federal stimulus funding is a stop-gap, as the funding is only promised for the next two years.
Altogether, action at the special meeting cut the anticipated deficit by nearly $250,000.
Other potential changes to balance next year’s budget include a shift of Bowlus Fine Arts Center lease payments to capital outlay. Raising the fund’s levy from 5 to 6 mills would bring an additional $50,000. The remainder of the lease payment, $81,000, would come from $215,000 that will be in the capital outlay fund at the start of the new school year.
A nagging concern for board members is that the current $300,000 shortfall is based on the Legislature adopting a Senate revenue plan. A House plan would increase the local shortfall by $150,000.
The outcome will not be known until the end of the legislative wrap-up session, which begins today in Topeka. Neuenswander noted it “anyone’s guess” as to what would happen.

SEN. DEREK Schmidt told the Register Tuesday afternoon he was hopeful the Senate plan would be approved, although it does require about $75 million in new money, which would come from deferred tax cuts and bookkeeping strategies. The Independence Republican and Senate majority leader has been in Topeka this week meeting with other legislators in a run-up to the wrap-up session.
About 40 people attended the special meeting. Neuenswander said in response to audience questions that the district was limited in how it could use federal Title 1 and capital outlay funds, although occasionally money from either might be used to relieve the general fund. An example is that buses, which must be replaced after 20 years and cost $80,000 to $90,000, may be purchased from the capital outlay fund.
Neuenswander also pointed out “we had to deal with a cut in the per-pupil aid (from $4,433 to $4,400) during the current year and could face that again in the fall when revenue estimates are made again. This is probably more than a one-year problem. It probably will be with us for several years.”