Schools fret over funding

257 BOE members consider lawsuit

Register City Editor

On a unanimous vote, USD 257 board members Monday night committed $3 per student — about $4,100 — to support Schools for Fair Funding if the coalition decides to bring a lawsuit alleging the state is not adequately funding K-12 education.
“There comes a time when you can’t stand on the sidelines and cheer,” said Buck Quincy, in summing up the attitude of board members. “We have to stand by our kids,” Deanne Burris added.
Board members voted previously to join Schools for Fair Funding, a nonprofit coalition of districts that lobbies for K-12 funding. That signup cost $2 per student, or $2,785.
If a lawsuit develops, it will be similar to one from the mid-1990s that in a 10-year battle led the Kansas Supreme Court in 2005 to order legislators to increase state aid to public education.
Funding has eroded the past few years by revenue shortfalls brought on by the recession and, in the minds of many, also because legislators cut taxes more deeply than they should have, said Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools. Basic state aid comes mainly from a statewide property tax levy of 20 mills. Originally, when state aid was reformulated in the early 1990s, the levy peaked at 37 mills and then declined during robust economic times. Other tax cuts also affected school funding.
In the past 18 months base state aid has been reduced from $4,433 per students to $4,218 and likely will be sliced another $150 soon.
“That’s the anticipation,” Neuenswander told board members. “Statewide enrollment increases, greater numbers of students qualifying for free lunches (which makes them eligible for at-risk funding) and drops in assessed valuation will mean a $570,000 loss in funding for us the remainder of this year and next.”
He said USD 257 had sufficient reserves to weather a predicted loss of $300,000 this school year, but would face financial challenges next year because of the ongoing effect.
“Tax reductions enacted since 1995 have reduced $1.2 billion from the current state budget,” Neuenswander said. “That’s not cumulative, that’s just this year. If half of those cuts would not have been enacted, the state could have covered the current $459 million shortfall (just announced), and had funds remaining.”
With legislators unlikely to raise taxes, Neuenswander told members a lawsuit by Schools for Fair Funding seemed the only avenue for school districts to recapture lost funding and to realize additional money.
Schools for Fair Funding organizers have said they would not proceed with a lawsuit unless districts with a total of 100,000 students joined the effort. That would generate $300,000 for legal costs in a year. Neuenswander pointed out participation was not ongoing from year to year, rather would be decided each school year by board members.
The fair funding coalition meets Friday to plot strategy.

Budget woes worry 258 school board

Register Reporter

HUMBOLDT — Budget worries again oversha-dowed academic achievement at the USD 258 board meeting Monday.
Superintendent of Schools Bob Heigele said state budget predictions foretell another reduction in base per-pupil state aid. Now more than a week late, the district has received only half of its apportioned state aid due to schools on Nov. 1, Heigele said.
In a series of memos from Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, educators have learned the state is short $1 billion to adequately fund its schools, Heigele said. This is due to increased school enrollment, increased number of students receiving free and reduced- price lunches and a decline in assessed taxation valuation. Without the money, Heigele said, base aid could drop from $4,218 to $4,068. At the beginning of the school year, Heigele estimated the district stood to gain $88,000 due to increased enrollment figures. Now, he said, schools may face a 3.6 percent decrease in funding if base aid is adjusted as proposed.
If state funds decline further, as some predict, the “state will probably reduce state aid another $200” per pupil, Heigele warned board members. “We could look at a $188,000 hit this year” in the district budget, he said.
“I can’t come up with that kind of money without considering a lot of significant cuts,” Heigele said.
Still, he told the board he did not think the district should, as yet, join a possible lawsuit by Schools for Fair Funding, the group responsible for a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2005 forcing legislators to adequately fund education. Joining the lobbying effort would cost $2 per pupil, he said. But, he noted, “the cost (of involvement in the suit) will go up depending on how long the lawsuit goes on.” Schools for Fair Funding is fighting to restore base aid to the September 2008 rate of $4,488.
“At this point, I’m not recommending we get involved in this,” Heigele said. “I think if it comes about it will cause more ill feelings between the Legislature and school officials. When the Legislature is back in session, I believe they will do the best they can for the schools. Right now, every agency in this state is suffering.”

HUMBOLDT Elementary School is sitting better, financially, than the rest of the district.
The school has been awarded a $28,168 Small, Rural School Achievement Program (REAP) grant. The grant, designed to help schools meet annual yearly progress, can be used to purchase supplies, technology and curriculum based on reading and mathematics at the elementary level, said Kay Bolt, elementary principal.
In addition, Bolt said, “we’re looking into buying some playground equipment” for the northwest portion of the school yard to balance use of the space. “We have money for it,” she said.
Humboldt schools administered 125 doses of the H1N1 vaccine to students Monday. The high school had about three weeks with greater than 5 percent absenteeism due to sickness, said High School Principal K.B. Criss. The elementary had “been pretty good up until today,” Bolt said. Monday saw 24 students out due to fever and coughs, she said.
The district received official notice from the KSDE that Humboldt Elementary had met the standard of excellence for fourth and fifth grade reading, third and fifth grade math and building-wide for reading and math. The middle school met the standard of excellence building-wide, seventh and eight grades for reading and math, and the high school building-wide for reading and math. In addition, the high school met 100 percent proficiency in science. AYP is judged on reading and math, Criss noted.

IN OTHER business, the board discussed a technology audit of all the schools’ equipment and wiring and creating a schematic of the current technology system. Heigele is also applying for a $125,000 tech rich grant.
“If we get it, it would probably allow us to make all our middle school classrooms tech rich,” he said. Criss noted the grant would cover four middle school classes. The grant requires a $50,000 match from the school district. “You have that in your capital outlay” fund, Heigele told the board.
Staci Hudlin resigned as high school volley ball coach; Stephanie Middleton Splechter was hired to replace her.
John Johnson was hired as assistant middle school girls basketball coach and Amy Welch as assistant girls high school basketball coach.
Craig Smith was hired as high school principal on a two-year contract beginning with the 2010-2011 academic year.
School records of canceled checks, purchase orders, employee applications and the like from 2003-2004 were approved for destruction. Records are routinely destroyed after five years, Heigele said.