Funding not hurt by 257 losses

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

This year’s drop in enrollment for USD 257 won’t immediately affect school coffers.
As of Sept. 21, the local district had 1,337 students, 107 fewer than last year. State aid to schools is based on student enrollment, but schools have the option of using the previous year’s count or a three-year average.
Next year, the district likely will trigger the three-year option, unless enrollment recovers significantly. The three-year average, given this year’s dip, would be less than the figure used this year.
As is, the district anticipates a small cut in state aid because with the drop in enrollment students qualifying for free lunches also decreased, said Dr. Craig Neuen-swander, superintendent of schools, at Monday night’s board of education meeting. The number of free and reduced-priced lunches are used to figure per-pupil aid above the base amount of $4,218.
Neuenswander said there also was a possibility base state aid might be reduced, either because of lagging revenue or the statewide increase in the number of students in need of the lunch program subsidies.
The district lost most of its students because of their families moving elsewhere.
Neuenswander said 75 of the students lost had moved away. Another 22 students had transferred to Marmaton Valley, joining 64 students who lived in USD 257 and were already attending there. Two former students were now incarcerated.
The 2008 head count was a few students higher than 2007’s, which came as a surprise since many Iolans lost their homes to the flood that summer.
“Apparently, many of them were staying with relatives or elsewhere short term and since have moved,” Neuenswander said. “We also lost some students who were in foster care and were moved to homes outside the district.”
The elementary school total this year is 630 students, compared to 714 a year ago, which accounts for the lion’s share of the decrease. The district has 288 students in three middle school grades, 304 last year, and 419 in four high school grades, 426 last year.

OVERALL the district failed to meet adequate yearly progress according to standards set by the state, which means it is on improvement, along with 15 other Kansas districts.
While math and reading standards were met at most levels tested, the graduation rate of special education students was just 55 percent, well below the benchmark of 75 percent. That means the district has to take improvement measures. The state’s Department of Education has employed a contractor, Cross & Joftus, to help the 16 districts develop improvement models, some of which USD 257 already has accomplished because of previous AYP shortfalls.
“In December, they will bring a team to the district to observe classrooms and meet with various groups,” Neuenswander said. “They will develop a needs analysis and assist us in developing an improvement plan.”

BOARD members voted unanimously to join Schools for Fair Funding, which filed a lawsuit that led the Kansas Supreme Court to order increased school funding in 2005 and 2006.
SFF lobbies legislators and has indicated it may file another lawsuit to recover funding lost when base state aid was reduced from $4,433 to $4,218 because of revenue shortfalls. In the current financial environment that would necessitate a tax increase, an occurrence that has found next to no support in the Legislature.
Cost of the district to join SFF is $2 per student, or about $2,800. Neuenswander said the general fund budget could stand the expenditure.
He said being a member would permit USD 257 to involve itself in lobbying decisions and would give it a vote if another lawsuit went past the talking stage. He noted another vote would be required for the district to make itself party to a lawsuit because additional expenses would be involved.
A plumbing contract for the building trades class house was rebid. Two weeks ago a bid from Northcutt Plumbing, LaHarpe, was accepted at $7,500. That action was overturned and a bid of $6,020 from Paul Sinclair Plumbing & Heating, Iola, was the new choice. Neuenswander said Sinclair’s bid was in hand two weeks ago but was overlooked.
High school cheerleaders and their sponsor, Penny Herder, told board members of their successes at summer camp, including awards for being the top squad. The Register reported on the cheerleaders earlier.