257 finances take another hit

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Patrons of USD 257 will have an opportunity to learn about the district’s financial concerns and propose ways to deal with them at a public meeting proposed by Dr. Craig Neuenswander to board members Monday night. Neuenswander said the latest round of state aid cuts totaled $425,789.
Gov. Mark Parkinson reduced funding to public schools Monday, cutting base per-pupil aid from $4,218 to $4,012. Overall, the governor reduced state expenditures by $259 million because of lagging revenue.
Cuts to education funding mean a loss of $412,249 to USD 257’s general and local option budget funds. Additionally, the district lost $13,540 because of flagging enrollment. Altogether, the district has suffered funding losses of $1.1 million since Sept. 20, 2008, with the lion’s share coming since July 1.
This year’s budget contained expenditures of $17.3 million, including a little over $14 million for general operations.
Neuenswander noted the latest financial reversal could be dealt with by tapping into $500,000 held in reserve and putting off scheduled textbook purchases of about $100,000.
Beyond that, Neuenswander said he and board members needed guidance.
“There’s very little we can look at that is educationally palatable,” he said. “Wherever we cut will hurt kids and education.”
Two revenue sources available are federal stimulus money — the district qualifies for $325,000 and has scheduled expenditure of $90,000 — and the capital outlay fund.
The capital outlay fund, restricted to equipment and facilities needs, is at 5 mills today and legally could be increased to 8 mills. That would put another $153,000 in district coffers. Advantage to general operations would occur by shifting equipment and educational supplies purchases to the capital outlay fund to free up money in the general fund.

A STATE aid payment of $325,000 due to the district on Nov. 2 had not arrived as of Monday. Cash reserves permitted the district to meet payroll last Friday.
“We can weather some storms,” Neuenswander said, but if eroded reserves aren’t replenished that won’t hold true for long.
The alternative, he said, is to issue no-fund warrants, essentially a loan repaid by increasing the local mill levy in the succeeding year.
Neuenswander said 61 districts containing about 150,000 students had joined Schools for Fair Funding, a statewide consortium of districts that means to lobby for increased state aid when legislators convene in January.
Also, SFFF is considering a lawsuit to force legislators to increase funding. If the lawsuit materializes, its prosecution will be funded by SFFF members paying $3 per student in their districts. USD 257 has committed to support a lawsuit in the first year. Membership in lobbying efforts is $2 per student.
“Litigation will be discussed when SFFF meets Dec. 18,” he said.

BOARD members accepted an $11,850 bid from Copy Products for three digital duplicators. It was one of four.
They were told that a Kansas Learning Network team would be in Iola Dec. 7-9 as part of the process required by the district being put on improvement for not reaching prescribed graduation rates for special education students under No Child Left Behind requirements. Board members will be involved in interviews on Dec. 8.
Neuenswander said the district would get a report with the team’s observations and recommendations in early January.