Superintendent Steve Noble’s frustration with the latest wrinkle in the legislature’s attempts to curb school expenses showed in the title of his presentation to the board of education Monday: “Changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
A Republican legislative proposal last week would give school districts their 2014-15 state funding in one large sum, a block grant, and give them the same amount for the next two years while the legislature works on a new funding formula.
It’s a plan Noble said could hurt USD 410.
“The block grant actually reduces us $130,000 if that goes through,” Noble said. “They don’t want to fund the existing formula, and this is a way to cut school funding and lump it into one pool, and we have to use it the best we can to educate kids.”
District voters last year approved an increase in the portion of the budget generated locally through property taxes to 33 percent, the maximum allowed. The board pitched the increase by pointing to the increased state aid that would result to the district.
The block grant proposal eliminates that aid, Noble said, and will likely affect local taxes.
“They’re not giving us the state aid we voted and approved,” Noble said. “We expect to lose $56,000 of local option budget state aid.”
Noble said the district wants to keep the 33 percent local option authority, an issue voters will decide in a mail-in election in April. While the percentage wouldn’t change, the state cuts could lead to a slight increase in actual taxes paid.
“Very likely now it’s going to result in a property tax increase of one-and-a-half to two percent,” Noble said. “That would only keep us level on the local option side of things.”
One advantage Noble sees in the block grant is that if enrollment goes down over the next two years, the district’s state funding would remain level, rather than drop.
Still on the table is $82,000 of cuts from next year’s budget, which include coaching and activity sponsor positions.
Susan Hernandez, of the Center for Innovative School Leadership at Emporia State University, had good news for board members about the results of a recent school efficiency review of the district.
Hernandez reviewed a summary of the full report highlighting 19 commendations from the on-site review of facilities management, human resources, leadership, and teaching and learning.
District employees stay with the school longer than those at comparison schools, Hernandez said, which benefits instruction and operations.
“I do not know another district that had as high an employee retention as your district,” she said. “You’ve got to be doing something right when you have staff that want to stick with you.”
She singled out Project Lead the Way as an example of the district’s effective implementation of project-based education tied to state standards.
“When a couple of our team leaders saw it, they went, ‘Wow,’” Hernandez said. “There aren’t many schools that have it. It may have saved some teachers’ jobs and improved learning in the way it was implemented here.”
With a focus on efficiency, the review provided numerous recommendations for improvements, many of which emphasized the use of multi-year strategic plans that specify goals and tie them to budgets.
A recommendation that would cost the district more was to increase the kinds of counseling available to students.
“There were concerns about school counseling,” Hernandez said. “We recommend more emphasis on social and emotional counseling. It’s that kind of guidance the students and parents are looking for.”
Board president Eddie Weber said the results demonstrated the district is doing well.
“Overall it showed we have a strong school district and strong community support,” he said. “We have some weaknesses we need to work on, but not as many as most districts probably have.”
Weber said the long-range planning recommendations could be difficult to follow, given the current legislative climate.
“Ten years ago it was possible, because there was money and legislators who cared about schools, and they funded the schools,” he said. “They’re not doing that now. Public education is Public Enemy No. 1 to them.
“If we have a plan and save money back, we get criticized by the state for having too much money. It’s almost impossible to figure out what’s going to happen a year down the road with the legislature the way it is.”