On the eve of the Mid-Prairie School District Instructional Support Levy vote, residents raised concerns about how levy funds would be used, making it clear they want financial stability before new …
On the eve of the Mid-Prairie School District Instructional Support Levy vote, residents raised concerns about how levy funds would be used, making it clear they want financial stability before new programs.
More than 30 residents attended the Mid-Prairie Board of Education meeting Monday, not to voice opposition, but to ask for a few guarantees that district reserves will be rebuilt. In fact, as much as they favor an all-day, every-day kindergarten program, the residents asked the board to consider delaying any implementation until 2001.
Not only would the delay allow for more funds to go back into the reserves, but it also would allow for the program to be in all three district elementaries. It also would provide time to see what transportation factors, including additional costs, would be involved in having the program in all three district elementary buildings.
The proposal, which is estimated to cost an additional $132,000 for the first year, did not have transportation costs included in the figures.
At the start of the meeting, Transportation Director Richard Durst read a prepared statement in the Public Forum segment, asking the board to reconsider its recent cuts in the transportation department, specifically cutting 15 hours per week.
Durst said that such cuts reduce maintenance time, as well as reducing one employee’s income by 25 percent.
“I don’t think any of you are probably willing to give up 25 percent of your gross income to help rebuild the unspent balance, and I don’t think you should ask him to do this, either,” Durst said.
Pat Curl, a district bus driver, told the board that the transportation department came in under budget for four of the last six years, and on that basis had acheived a $100,000 savings for the district already.
Much of the discussion concerned the kindergarten proposal which has ranked as a number one priority for additional educational programs in Mid-Prairie.
Business Manager Doug Slaubaugh said that “without additional revenues, we cannot add any more programs. We cannot maintain what we have.”
Residents repeatedly stressed that it would be better for the district to first address rebuilding reserves and meeting existing needs before adding anything.
Some of the revenue problems are related to declining enrollment (as well as to the fact there are two private schools in the district) which lead to asking how many students are home schooled.
The home schooling figures have been increasing, and the present total is 133. However, Superintendent Gordon Cook stressed that a number of these students “never were in the system,” that they are in families who have always home schooled.
During the discussion, however, it was noted that Mid-Prairie has the largest number for a district of its size. The next nearest has 45 home schoolers.
The home schoolers have lost the district approximately $535,000 annually in state funds.
It also was noted that annual costs are going up, not only for salaries, but for fixed items such as utilities and services.
An equal concern voiced by the residents is that if guidelines are set, what guarantees are there that the plans will be followed.
Both Cook and the board said it is impossible to guarantee a budget for ten years (the length of the levy), which led to asking how the reserves became so depleted, that the board must have been aware of it.
Board member Ed Whetstine agreed that the board should have been more aware and said, frankly, “we screwed up.”
However, residents said they were not seeking to fix blame, but simply to avoid having the situation reoccur.
While nothing is set in stone, “we will not give you an open checkbook,” said resident Jim Marek, saying that “you’ve got to guarantee them (the taxpayers) something.”
Cook said the plans and parameters would be a guideline and that the board would address issues annually.
Both board and residents agreed that the discussion is moot considering that the vote is Tuesday.
In other business, the board:
•set 8 p.m., Monday, April 12 for a public hearing on the proposed 1999-2000 budget. The budget, estimated at $9,238,508, will seek a tax levy of $12.76137 which is a decrease of 16 cents from the present levy. Even with favorable passage of the Instructional Support Levy, the property tax asking would still be five cents lower.
•accepted the resignation of Neil Knobloch, effective June 30, as ag ed instructor. Knobloch has taken a faculty position with Ohio State University where he will also pursue a doctoral degree.
•had a presentation from the Invent Iowa student winners.
•approved hiring Doreen Schlabaugh as elementary schools secretary for Kalona Elementary School. Schlabaugh previously was a special education aide at the school.
•accepted Melody Hammes’ resignation as a high school special education aide.
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