Iola schools brace for more cuts



February 18, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Dr. Craig Neuenswander gave USD 257 board members somber news Wednesday evening. If state aid plays out as anticipated, the district will have to close a $902,000 hole in its 2010-11 budget.
At the start of the 2009-10 school year money budgeted for general operation was just over $13 million.
Neuenswander, superintendent of schools, detailed lost revenue as $267,082 from decreased enrollment, $491,555 from less base state aid, $66,491 in state aid lost from the local option budget and $77,000 in anticipated increased costs for fuel, utilities and insurance.
The projected reductions would make total loss in state aid $2 million since September 2008, when base state aid started to fall. At its peak, state aid was $4,433 per student; today it is $4,012; the projection is $3,726 next school year.
“Whatever cuts we make now may be worked out in two, three or four years,” with a revived economy, “or they may be something we’ll have to live with on down the road,” Neuenswander said.
A gaggle of faculty members, administrators and citizens also attended the special meeting. Neuenswander used the 90-minute session to explain a list of possible cuts.
No decisions were made and none likely will be soon. The district won’t know how severe state aid cuts will be until legislators approve the state’s fiscal 2011 budget, probably in May.

THE DISTRICT has $500,000 held in reserve, but Neuenswander proposed transferring no more than $200,000 to the general fund next year. He noted monthly state aid payments had lagged up to a week or two and that $325,000 was needed to ensure the district could meet monthly payroll. The district also will have one-time access to $85,000 in federal stimulus money next year.
The district’s capital outlay fund could be increased 3 mills to a total of 8, which would raise an additional $153,000. Expenditure of capital outlay money is restricted to purchase of equipment and for physical improvements. Such things as a bus purchase could be made with additional capital outlay revenue and free money in the general fund for other uses, Neuenswander said.
Other cuts were mentioned, foremost among them a basic change in delivery of education by shifting middle school music programs from the Bowlus Fine Arts Center to the middle school.
To accomplish that likely would mean refitting the technology laboratory. Savings would occur from eliminating a teacher and paraprofessional in the tech lab, $61,000 for both, eliminating a daily bus route to and from the Bowlus Center, $16,300, and reducing the district’s annual payment to the Bowlus by $6,450, from occupying less space there.
In the tech lab Bruce Jacobs and paraprofessional Alisha Baker provide instruction through individual learning models in such things as electronics, robotics, hydraulics, weather patterns and flight technology, some which could lead to vocatonal applications, said Jack Stanley, middle school principal.
Some Kansas districts have adopted a four-day school week. Following that avenue in USD 257 would not save as much as some might think, Neuenswander said.
“With a four-day week we’d have 22 fewer days in school and days would be 57 minutes longer,” he said. “Savings in transportation, food service, staff and utilities would be about $97,000.
“On the surface a four-day week doesn’t look good for kids, but test results in places that have adopted to it are mixed.”
Reducing number of days by adding minutes — Kansas schools are required to be in session 1,116 hours a year — would save $5,015 a day. Adding 12 minutes each day would permit the district to cut five days from the calendar.
Closing Crossroads, the alternative school for high school students, would save $221,700, but likely would adversely affect enrollment and the district’s graduation rate. Moving Crossroads to the high school would save $26,500.
Reinstating a textbook rental fee, at $40, could raise nearly $23,000, but would not affect at-risk students, those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. More than half the district’s students are considered at-risk.
Eliminating athletics and other non-curricular activities at the high school would save $213,000, at the middle school $86,800. An additional savings of $71,000 could be had by eliminating an athletic director position.
Putting kindergarten back to half a day would save $165,000 through staff reductions.
Several means of reducing staff also were mentioned, with a teaching position cut saving $37,000 and one in administration $67,000. Neuenswander said attrition, early retirement, program reduction or elimination, increased class size and schedule changes were ways to reduce teaching positions.
None, he said, were attractive alternatives when the education of children was considered.

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