Board $800,000 short in budget

By Bryan Richardson

USD 383 will need at least $804,795 beyond its current budget authority to fund current commitments for the 2013-14 school year. Budget director Lew Faust noted that figure in a presentation to the USD 383 school board Wednesday meeting.

One unfunded need is a result of the board’s May decision to hire new positions, at a cost of about $128,000, in order to increase planning time for elementary teachers. The remaining unfunded needs are due to a projected $457,913 decrease in state and local tax receipts, and also to the loss of new facilities weighting funds.

The general budget authority consists of the general fund, which is set by the state at 20 mills, and the local option budget (LOB), which is controlled by the board.

The base state aid per pupil will remain flat at $3,838 next school year. The district is projecting an enrollment increase of 125 students, but the loss of weighting funds partially offsets the funding gain it would normally receive from those students.

Last year’s $620,950 contingency reserve transfer, a $58 increase in base state aid per pupil and other factors helped contribute to the mill levy decreasing from 51.6 mills in 2011-12 to 50.4 mills in 2012-13.

There was no discussion about an increase in the local option levy Wednesday. But beyond raising the levy, it was not clear what other options the board might have.

USD 383 had the lowest LOB among area and comparison districts last year at 14.4 mills. The average of the 20 area and peer districts was 19.345 mills.

Most of those districts have taken their local option budgets to 30 or 31 percent of the general fund budget authority, the maximum allowed by law. “That’s the norm throughout the state especially in the larger districts,” Faust said. However, USD 383 has their local option budget at 25.4 percent of the general fund budget authority.

Should the district choose to increase that authority percentage, it is projected to raise $417,356 per one percent increase.

The current $804,795 projected shortfall could rise by $523,000, depending on the board’s interest in an additional $169,000 in budget requests and a one percent salaries and wages increase that costs $354,000.

Out of the additional budget requests, board member Walt Pesaresi said $25,000 for electricity and water increases and $60,000 for an increase in workman’s compensation insurance would have to happen.

A group of teachers, students and parents also argued for inclusion of $10,000 for the Interpersonal Skills (IPS) class at Manhattan High. The class, which started in 1997-98, teams up a student with disabilities with a senior student, who serves as a mentor.

The mentors are selected for the class based on a teacher’s recommendation, references and an interview.

The additional funding is needed as a replacement for the $10,000 federal grant that stopped being given out a few years ago. Since then, the class has utilized outside local sources to continue funding the trips and other needs.

Barb Crooks, MHS special education teacher, said she would like to see this money added as a budget line item going forward. “We would like to not have to come before somebody every year,” she said.

Many students and parents gave testimonials on the positive effects of the class.

Ashlee Johnston, a 2013 MHS graduate, experienced the program as a mentee during her sophomore year after an accident that occurred freshman year. She missed six months of school.

“I didn’t how I was going to make friends,” she said. “Coming out of the hospital, I was like, ‘Crap, no one is going to like me.’ Interpersonal Skills completely changed my life.”

After creating bonds during her sophomore year, Johnston returned to the program as a mentor as a senior this past school year. “I don’t think it should be a question as to if Interpersonal Skills class should be funded or not,” she said. “I think that should be a given.”

Ashlee’s mother, Angela Tierney, said the class helped her graduate on time. “IPS completely integrated Ashlee back into school so flawlessly and seamlessly,” she said.

She said the experience as a mentor has left an impact on her daughter, who now wants to be a special education teacher.

Even board president Dave Colburn added to the conversation, mentioning the positive impact the class had on his oldest daughter.  Board member Pete Paukstelis said he’s sure the board could find $10,000 to help out the class.

Colburn said the board should expect to hear from the group of business owners who have addressed the Riley County Commission about their unhappiness with higher taxes. Colburn suggested holding a July 17 public hearing to provide an outlet for citizens, although it was not confirmed Wednesday due to him wanting the new members to have input.

Wednesday was the last meeting for Pesaresi, Pete Paukstelis and Beth Tatarko. Pat Hudgins, Marcia Rozell and Aaron Estabrook will replace them with their first meeting as board members taking place July 3.

HVAC issues

Maintenance director Keith Noll said the district needs to adjust the way HVAC systems are controlled at Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Issues with the control systems have caused numerous reports of HVAC systems not working property. These issues include hot air blowing in classrooms and the smell of gas.

Pesaresi said he thinks the issue might have to do with the systems being installed wrong due to the HVAC working fine at Bluemont, where similar work took place.

He said the board should use a future meeting to bring in the companies who all worked on those projects.

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