Tatarko gets reacquainted with school board procedures

By Bryan Richardson

When the USD 383 school board selected Beth Tatarko as its newest board member, she stepped into a different situation than her first board stint.

Among other things, Tatarko, a board member from 2005 to 2009, returns to a shakier financial situation.

When she left, the district had just experienced its initial decrease in state funding when the nationwide recession hit during the 2008-09 school year. The base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) has decreased from $4,400 in 2008-09 to $3,780 this school year. The state legislature approved a fiscal year 2013 budget Sunday that increases the BSAPP by $60 as a start to making up for the $620 per pupil cut.

“Since I left, there has been a 17-percent reduction in state funding. That’s very difficult for a school district to handle,” Tatarko said.

Tatarko said she is concerned about the impact of the tax bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback to reduce personal income tax rates and eliminate taxes on non-wage income. The bill cuts state income taxes by around $3.7 billion over five years.

Tatarko said reducing that revenue would put more pressure on local property taxes to fund education. “Basically, the state is pushing its responsibility down to local government for more funding,” she said.

Tatarko said this is a bad situation because some districts can raise money — those in Johnson County, for example, and some western Kansas counties with oil fields — while others would struggle.

Tatarko said she read through materials concerning the district’s needs for the next school year, and mentioned that the teachers needed would be of the most importance.

“The big one would be to maintain class size that is sustainable according to funding levels and is good for teachers and students as far as learning,” she said.

Other than the financial situation, Tatarko said the big topics on the agenda are maintaining the quality of the district’s buildings and possible changes in school schedules.

Tatarko served as the board president when the board approved the bond issue in 2008, but mostly she has viewed the construction process as a taxpayer. She said the project has gone well from afar.

“With a couple of minor exceptions, it has been very phenomenal for the district,” she said. “Our buildings were in dire need and they needed a facelift.”

Tatarko said trips to facilities are being arranged as well as talks with principals and parents.

She said she has received positive feedback for the most part, calling Woodrow Wilson Elementary a high priority based on previous stories of the district’s struggles.

Tatarko emphasized the importance of capital outlay funds being used to maintain the buildings in the long-term. She said proper staffing of maintenance personnel will help that process, although it won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be a big challenge if the state doesn’t provide the funding that it should,” she said.

Tatarko said she likes how the board has handled looking into senior early release, start time for all schools, open and closed lunch at MHS, and the elementary and high school schedules. The board has approved the assembling of committees with district, board and community representatives to develop proposals for the topics first discussed at the board’s winter retreat.

Tatarko said the communities of Manhattan and Ogden are very involved in the education process.

“We’ve always tried to include multiple stakeholders in the process, and that’s something I like and value,” she said. Tatarko said the process will involve getting feedback, determining the pros and cons of the pathways, and looking at other model programs.

Tatarko admits that despite keeping up with the board’s activities, she has bit of a learning process ahead. She said she expects to meet with Supt. Bob Shannon soon.

“I’m sure Dr. Shannon has a to-do list for me,” she said.

However, Tatarko will rely on her previous experience to help in the transition. She said a new board member goes through a two-day, six- to eight-hour orientation that covers topics including budgets, negotiations, policies and facilities.

“A lot of those things I’ve already done, so I think the refresher course will be a lot shorter,” she said.

Tatarko said she doesn’t have a personal agenda or platform she’s looking to promote. She has said she intends to serve only the remainder of former president Doug Messer’s term, which ends in June 2013.

“I just want to make sure I can contribute as a steward and be a leader in the process,” she said.

Tatarko described the style she brings as a board member as collaborative, accessible, open to new ideas and energetic.

“I like to get things done,” she said.

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