Block grant will effect schools budget

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March 10, 2015 - 12:00 AM

In recent weeks USD 257 has peeled back the district budget layer by layer to find possible budget cuts. At Monday night’s school board meeting, board members and Superintendent of Schools Jack Koehn evaluated which actions should be taken and which should be left in place.
Kansas school districts currently are being presented with a block grant by the Brownback administration. The block grant bill would make cuts this school year. For Iola, it will affect the Local Option Budget (LOB) and capital outlay but would leave the general fund alone for the current year.
Koehn said the grant affects poorer districts the most. Iola is looking at a cut of $62,000 for LOB and $59,000 for capital outlay, totaling $121,000 in cuts.
The Legislature is working quickly to pass this grant; it could be approved by the end of the week.
“What will happen is capital outlay and LOB will be frozen for years two and three. There will be a slight increase in the general fund,” Koehn said.
There is still a hole in the state budget that needs to be filled. It will be filled through sin taxes, highway funds, and, possibly, by delaying tax cuts. It also depends on whether revenue matches each month.
Koehn said it would be beneficial to look at the things the board could cross off the budget matrix. The first and most important thing placed into consideration concerned how the cuts would affect the students.
Many area schools are considering moving to a four-day school week but board members agreed this isn’t the best fit for the students.
“I don’t think it’s a great option for Iola,” Koehn said. “I don’t think it’s great for kids in terms of staying home on a Friday and parents having to scramble for childcare. The savings aren’t worth the cultural impact.”
Another option was to offer a buyout to staff members who are of retirement age. The idea of the buyout looks great on paper but there are some hiccups in its possible implementation.
“The figures I used are not specifics but I used the average teacher salary versus what I could hire with a new teacher,” Koehn said. “We are looking at around $6,000 in savings but that scenario may not work out all the time.”
Koehn said things would have to work out perfectly in terms of saving dollars for the district and the savings on a buyout would shrink each year. In 2008 the district offered a retirement buyout and only four faculty members took it. Currently there are 30 teachers available for retirement. Board members said it would not be fair to offer a buyout to some and not others.
Eliminating middle school activities has been bumped from the cut list. The board president said he felt eliminating middle school activities would affect the students too much.
“It is the most important time of their life to be involved in something,” Leavitt said.
The board also agreed to keep the school nurses off of the budget cut list. It would impact the students and cause a large liability for the district if a nurse was not present. The board will also hold on to elementary counselors and will not outsource payroll. Summer school will also continue.
Some items will continue to be looked into. The Bowlus Fine Arts Center is a big item on the cut list. The board members have considered no longer using the Bowlus for classes and instead having the high school band students walk to the middle school and use the band room there. Clyde Toland, an Iola attorney, has suggested the decision be made in court. Also, the University of Kansas should be contacted. The board members wish to evaluate the payment further.
The board will continue to look into eliminating district librarians. This could save the district $160,000 with salaries. However, elementary teachers expressed dismay at this possibility. Many stated the librarians do more than just check out books. They also help teach the children and work within the curriculum.
Replacing block scheduling with a seven-period day was weighed on the budget scale. Some parents felt that block scheduling allowed their children to explore extra-curricular activities.
 “Most of the block schedules have a good mix of lecture and assignments,” Lisa Wicoff said. “If they have 20 minutes of homework a night for seven periods that is a lot of stress on them. There is a benefit to the electives.”
“I want to see our math scores go up and a seven-period day would help,” Koehn said. “There’s a benefit to seeing kids every day as opposed to a hit or miss thing.”

IN OTHER news SAFE BASE director Angela Henry spoke to the board about funding for the after-school program. SAFE BASE is funded by grants and the organization will not have a summer program this summer. Henry asked the board for approval to apply for a $75,000 grant. The grant would help fund a summer program for 2016. The deadline for the grant is April 2. Henry will return to the next meeting with more information on what the 2016 trip would be.
The board accepted the resignation of Greg McCullough as custodian, Krystal Henderson as a high school teacher and Bill Peeper, high school boys basketball . The board approved the hiring of Heather Jones for transportation and Lewis Clark as custodian.

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