BOE eyes new sources

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Desperate to find money, USD 257 board members all but resorted to bake sales at their meeting Monday night.
Dr. Craig Neuen-swander, superintendent of schools, mentioned three fund raising possibilities to help deal with a state aid cut of $426,000: Charge a textbook fee, have students pay to participate in sports and increase the capital outlay fund levy by 3 mills.
Neuenswander said a $40 textbook fee might generate as much as $22,600. The fee would not be applied to students considered at-risk or those qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, and it would be difficult to collect from those who chose not to pay, he said.
No figure was considered for the pay-to-play idea.
Upping the capital outlay fund 3 mills — it’s at 5 now — would generate $153,000 more. While capital outlay fund expenditures are restricted to physical improvements and equipment purchases, money set aside in the general fund for those things, such as purchases of buses, could be shifted to the capital outlay fund to free up general fund money.
The district will receive $145,000 in federal stimulus money next year, when the budget crunch is expected to be as tight, if not tighter, than this year, Neuenswander said.
Board member Buck Quincy had it in for the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, suggesting the district renege on its commitment to pay for its use of the facility. This year’s lease — about $131,000 — has been paid.
“That would be my first option,” Quincy said. “Other people have taken hits and I want to see the Bowlus (sustain cuts) up front.”
Quincy asked whether some of the money already paid could be retrieved.
“I suppose it could,” Neuenswander said.
A long list of possible cuts were proposed at a planning session Jan. 4. At the time, Neuenswander said it was better to wound many than kill some. The wounds are being felt, Neuenswander said.
“We have no staff development money this year and we’re definitely feeling the pain (of budget cuts) in many places,” he said. “The proposal not to buy textbooks this year (to save $100,000) goes beyond just textbooks. In reality it cuts into all curriculum materials.”
To the district’s advantage, no cuts are proposed that would increase class size in the elementary schools, where 18 and no more than 20 students per classroom is considered the best learning environment.
“We’ve been able to keep classes pretty close to 18 students,” Neuenswander said, adding he wasn’t certain what the average was in the secondary schools. Middle and high schools classes vary according to subject.
Cuts proposed a week ago would deal essentially with the entire $426,000 state aid cut made this fall. Board members must develop a budget for 2010-11 that incorporates that cut, plus another $267,000 from a loss of about 110 students to the district’s enrollment this year.
Other state aid cuts are possible, depending on how rapidly the economy recovers.

SCHOOLS FOR Fair Funding will ask the Kansas Supreme Court to reopen the Montoy case, which forced the Legislature to increase state aid for schools after the justices agreed that funding was insufficient for an adequate education.
“It seems unlikely that the case will be reopened,” Neuenswander said. If it isn’t, “the group will meet again to decide whether there is sufficient support to file a new lawsuit.”
Districts containing nearly 137,000 students have signed on to pay costs of the effort. Initial cost to join SFFF was $2 per student with estimate of an additional $3 if litigation occurred, Neuenswander said. Both are annual fees.

BOARD MEMBERS didn’t decide when to make up two days lost last week to severe winter weather. A likely day is April 2, when students will be out of schools for Good Friday.
Next Monday, Martin Luther King Day, was mentioned but dismissed because board members thought it would be difficult for families to retract plans already made. Another option is to add a day, May 24, at the end of the year.
The schedule has 2.6 “snow” days built in and board members could forgive the two days lost. They also could add minutes to other days, probably five for each day, Neuenswander said.
A decision likely will be made when board members meet Jan. 25. That meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. to allow time for the annual superintendent’s evaluation.
Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, the board met in executive session to deal with professional negotiations and non-elected personnel. No decisions occurred afterward.