Iola schools see increase in enrollment

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November 29, 2011 - 12:00 AM

The budget outlook for the year got a smidgen sunnier Monday night for USD 257 board of education.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Pekarek told members an uptick in student enrollment for Iola schools means the district won’t have to use as much of its reserve cash as previously anticipated.
USD 257 saw an increase of 47 students for the 2011-2012 school year, a full time enrollment increase of 37.6 and a 44.2 increase of weighted FTE — schools receive per pupil aid based on graduated scales for minority, poor or single-parent students.
In June, the board OK’d the use of $200,000 in contingency reserve funds to partially offset a $432,000 cut in state aid caused by a $157 cut in base state aid per pupil. Now that enrollment is up, Pekarek said the board has the means to put about $65,000 of that money back in reserves.
“We had budgeted at the beginning of the year $200,000 of reserves to cover some of the losses we had from the $157 cut in base state aid per pupil so this is a good thing,” he said.
Pekarek credited the increase to the board and district administrators’ push to get more parents to apply for free and reduced lunches — a variable in determining at-risk students. In August, when parents filled out enrollment forms, school officials encouraged parents to fill out an application for the government lunch program.
“That was a success,” Pekarek said. “The proof is in the numbers.”
Referencing the $135,000 of reserve funds still being used to fill the budget gap, Pekarek told the board it’s time for school officials to get creative and aggressive about finding alternative funding sources.
“We still took (reserve funds) out this year, and we can’t do it again next year,” he said. “We just can’t do it again.”
The district will enjoy $365,000 in cushion funds after the $65,000 is put back in the coffers. But considering most grants — and nearly all federal and state grants — aren’t able to be spent on operating costs or teacher salaries, Pekarek said the reserves aren’t full enough. The deepening tradition of state cuts to public education — USD 257 alone has seen about $2.2 million in cuts since 2008 — don’t make sleeping any easier, he added.
Aside from seeking grants, a pursuit already under way, Pekarek suggested the district reduce expenses by becoming more efficient wherever possible, pointing to technology and food service as potential areas to investigate cost reductions.
Although the board adopted a $9,039,602 budget in August — not expecting to have the $65,000 in base state aid money — Pekarek suggested the board hold off on adopting a revised budget until the governor’s plan to revise the education finance formula is further conceptualized.
Gov. Sam Brownback is 
working on a plan to reform public school funding by setting a new baseline for state aid, implementing a block grant system available to districts and putting more responsibility on local tax payers.

WITHOUT GOING into detail, SAFE BASE director Angela Henry mentioned to board members that the after-school program Monday submitted a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant application for $600,000 through the Kansas State Department of Education.
“It’s supporting Gov. Brownback’s ‘war on illiteracy’ so it will be very beneficial to SAFE BASE and the library,” she said.
The grant will be awarded, either to SAFE BASE or another entity, no later than Jan. 1, Henry said.

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