District struggling with finances

By EMERSON LYNN
Register Associate Editor

Iola’s school finances got a double whammy this year, Supt. of Schools Dr. Craig Neuenswander told fellow Rotarians Thursday. District enrollment dropped by 111 students to 1,333, the lowest total in decades, and state aid per pupil fell from $4,433 per pupil last year to $4,218 due to shrinking tax revenues. The net result will be a budget loss of $786,396 and a levy increase of 6.3 mills.
“The governor made the latest cut just a few weeks ago and warned school districts that more reductions would have to be made if revenues continue to drop,” Neuenswander said.
Using a slide projector to keep his audience from being overwhelmed by a blizzard of numbers, he said the district was being required to increase taxes just to stay even. Last year, for example, the state matched the district in its supplemental general fund budget, creating a 17.77 mill levy for the fund. This year, the state cut out all supplemental aid so the district must levy 23.07 mills to raise the same amount of money.
“This isn’t fair to poor districts such as ours,” he said. “Rich districts which get no state aid don’t have to increase their mill levies from the previous year to make their budgets.”
The same imbalance applies to capital outlay budgets. USD 257 will again levy 5 mills for that purpose but will receive no additional state aid. Last year the state matched local income for the local capital outlay fund, dollar for dollar, because the state contribution is based on district wealth.
Turning to student performance, Neuenswander said that every school in the district made the average yearly progress goal set under the No Child Left Behind program — but the district is still rated “on improvement” because of the dropout rate.
The district has a 80.2 percent graduation rate, which he considered low even though it is below the 75 percent standard set.
He said the faculty was particularly pleased with the improvement shown across the board in math scores, which had been a weakness in prior years.
“And I can tell you that this is a direct result of planning and effort made by the faculty,” he said.
Neuenswander said the drop in enrollment was caused by a combination of factors. Sixty-six of the students moved out of the district, two died, and 33 transferred to other districts. At present, he said, about 80 students who live in the district are attending Marmaton Valley schools in Moran.
“We don’t want to make too much of that. Part of the explanation is that we closed the school at LaHarpe, part is because there are always families that prefer smaller schools, but the fact is that there were more of our students in Moran five years ago than there are today.”
Dr. Neuenswander was introduced by Mary Martin, program chairman.