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A parking lot is empty at Manhattan High's East Campus in mid-February. USD-383 canceled in-person and virtual school because of extreme cold and power outages. Now the district is contesting a big gas bill from February.

The Manhattan-Ogden school district will fight a six-figure gas bill from February.

During their meeting Wednesday, USD 383 school board members approved joining a coalition of school districts across the state, led by the Kansas Association of School Boards, to challenge drastically increased natural gas costs. The board passed the measure 5-0; members Brandy Santos and Jurdene Coleman were not at the meeting.

In April, district officials said they were shocked when they found USD 383 owed $128,363 for its February gas bill. The six-figure bill makes up 91.5% of the district’s $140,000 total allotted budget for natural gas expenses for fiscal year 2021. For fiscal year 2020, USD 383 officials spent $87,554 total on natural gas services.

The increased cost stems from increased gas usage during multiple days of record-breaking cold weather. KASB officials are advising the district to withhold February’s payment as negotiations continue between attorneys hired by KASB and representatives with Symmetry Energy Solutions. The Houston, Texas-based energy company provides utilities for several Kansas school districts through a consortium organized by KASB.

Lawyers in the firm are working with representatives of Symmetry to ensure service is not interrupted while the bill is being challenged. USD 383 assistant superintendent Eric Reid said this is not a class-action lawsuit.

“This is not litigation. This is having representatives fight for us as part of this coalition,” Reid said. “The goal of this is to avoid litigation.”

Under the coalition agreement, the district likely will pay a fee of $1,400 to KASB to support negotiations. The due date for paying the February bill is May 5, and attorneys plan to make a request for a 30-day grace period.

COVID data

Superintendent Marvin Wade said district officials are keeping their fingers crossed for a continued decline in quarantines and absences as the school year draws to a close.

“We’re going to continue to do the things that have gotten us here, even though we’re getting tired of it,” Wade said.

For the week of April 11-17, four students in the district out of 6,300 were still in quarantine.

Only one staff member was listed under quarantine for that week. The district didn’t report any positive COVID-19 tests for students and staff that week. The student attendance rate for that timeframe was 94.5%, while the staff attendance rate was 85%.

As part of Wade’s report, Reid said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will extend the universal free breakfast and lunch program for all students into the 2021-22 school year.

The USDA offered the child nutrition waivers at the start of the pandemic to alleviate some financial burden and potential hunger hardships for families.

The waiver allows all children to eat for free, with the reimbursement rate for schools increased to help pay for higher nutrition costs.

Purchases

The bulk of board members’ time at the meeting went to the approval of expenditures, including:

  • Projectors for multiple district locations from Cytek Media Systems of Topeka through the state contract for $24,411.
  • Projectors for the Manhattan High School Little Theater from Cytek Media Systems of Topeka for $16,664 and accompanying electrical work from Economy Electric Inc. of Manhattan for $4,690.
  • A van for Information Technology staff for $24,783.
  • An updated network backup system from CDW-G of Chicago for $54,718.
  • An amendment to the guaranteed maximum price for construction projects at Eugene Field Early Learning Center for $319,195. This amended price accounts for changes made to structural roofing support for the building’s storm shelters, and an increase in cost for work on the playground to allow for an underground drainage system to mitigate water collecting on the property.
  • Projectors, along with equipment and installation, for Eugene Field Early Learning Center from Cytek Media Systems for $43,008.
  • An amendment setting the maximum price for Oliver Brown Elementary at $17.44 million to account for the construction of a maintenance shed for the school for $114,761.
  • A $30,150 change order for Frank Bergman Elementary for changes to the construction plan for the roof.
  • A bid from Blueville Nursery of Manhattan for irrigation and reseeding of the football fields at both Eisenhower and Anthony middle schools for $59,442.
  • Proposals from Mid-Continental Restoration of Fort Scott for masonry repairs at Manhattan High School West Campus C-Hall for $87,572 and Lee Elementary for $32,879.
  • A bid from Diamond Roofing of Manhattan for a multi-school roof replacement project for $705,905. Both Manhattan High School campuses and Woodrow Wilson Elementary will receive new roof sections over the summer break.
  • A contract with Gardner & Associates LLC, Immigrant Connections, for $14,995 for training sessions focused on improving cultural appreciation and awareness. This professional learning workshop will be open for 40-60 district staff members to participate.
  • The adoption of textbooks for 6th grade Family and Consumer Sciences courses, as well as 6th grade STEM classes and high school AP Physics, for $71,351.
  • The purchase of Xello IPS Services for $15,564 from Xello Inc. of Toronto, Canada. Xello is a software meant to help students in grades 6-12 personalize their own educational pathway and explore career options.
  • Dyslexia and early literacy training services for 16 district educators from the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education for $28,509.
  • Contractual services with BetterLesson not to exceed $61,500 for one-to-one coaching and professional learning focused on identifying implicit bias, tackling systemic racism and exploring more culturally responsive teaching methods.
  • Contractual services for professional speaker Manny Scott for $20,000.
  • Student materials and textbook rental fees for the 2021-22 school year. There are no changes to textbook rental fees and materials, but officials removed a $5 fee for middle school student planners and fees for free lunch students. K-6th grade students must pay $40 to rent a textbook. For grades 7-8, it’s $55. High schoolers pay $56 to rent textbooks. The price for student materials for middle and high schoolers increased from $42 to $47 for the next school year.