School Board beginning annual numbers crunch

Though there are still a lot of unknowns in the next year's budget, school officials agreed last week that pain is something they can count on.

Business Manager Lee Metheny provided the stark assessment in preliminary budget figures presented to the School Board at their meeting on March 11.

The bad news included the loss of $45,000 in Forest Fees, spiking fuel costs and word that education is likely to suffer the deepest cuts as the state addresses its own financial woes.

The district expects an estimated $3.714 million - $3.277 million of that in primary revenue from property taxes and from the state, and $437,781 in secondary revenue, which includes teacher rent, food service and funding for federal programs like Title I and Native American education.

The biggest expenditure is for salaries, which Metheny said he figured a couple of ways.

"I did not do a lot of scenarios," he said.

Without a pay raise, they are estimated at $2.35 million. A 2 percent raise would add another $41,000 to that, with salaried staff receiving an average of $818 more and hourly workers getting 39 cents more per hour.

Another option he discussed with Superintendent Sheila Breen was a raise of 1 percent and a flat-rate amount that wouldn't become part of the salary base.

"We're not going to lock ourselves in to making that part of the permanent salary base because we don't know what's happening in the near future. We don't want to get locked in so that we have to RIF somebody or whatever," he said.

A best-case scenario for staffing shows a possible excess of about $35,000. This assumes two kindergarten teachers instead of one, a single first grade teacher rather than three and two second grade teachers instead of one. It also projects hiring a librarian for less than what the current position costs in pay and benefits and projects staying level for a new special ed director, though Metheny said he didn't know if they could meet that target if they have to pay benefits too.

"There are a couple of things that play into that," said Metheny. "How much are we going to pay for a special ed director? At $40,000, we may not get anybody at that price."

They expect to have $141,000 in Proposition 301 money - state funds that go to teachers in the form of salaries and incentive bonuses.

"I'm feeling a need for a work session, particularly for a lot of maintenance and operations things in order for me to make any kind of a recommendation about any kind of salary increase," said Board member Chuck Wahler. He noted that at a recent meeting with other state school boards, some districts such as Prescott and Humboldt had already decided against raises for next year. He said high propane and vehicle fuel costs were especially concerning.

"We under-budgeted significantly in a number of areas," he said.

Last year they estimated on the high side for propane and still exceeded that by 14 percent, as the cost per gallon rose from $1.64 to $2.44.

"I don't know where we are in terms of numbers of students this year compared to last year but is it time to look at trimming staff? I'm not necessarily talking teaching staff," Wahler said, "but if we're going to do a pay raise, I think fewer people are going to get more money. I think if we stay the same size it's going to be very, very difficult to do that."

The board will meet for a work session on Wednesday, March 26, from 4-5:30 p.m. in the school library. It is open to the public.

Calendar

After some discussion about a week off in October, the board approved a calendar that follows the same schedule as this year's. Circulated as Calendar A, Principal Bob Kelso said that it was favored by 13 teachers while six preferred versions with a fall break. The small sample of parents who responded was evenly split, he said.

Board member Suzette Streit voiced two concerns with an October break - its effect on fall sports and that with businesses at less than full staffing, it would be hard for employees to use that time to get away.

"They actually have people working six and seven days a week then so it's not realistic to think that families are going to take vacation then," she said. "The best time to take vacation is when you're full staffed."

Earlier in the meeting, Kelso learned that the district may be able to include pass time as instructional time, a move that would give the district a buffer of another 59 hours against snow days. He said that he would explore that and report back.

Under the calendar, school starts on Monday, Aug. 11. The first semester ends before the two-week Christmas break and spring break will be the week of March 16. The only other difference from this year is that Veteran's Day is a holiday because it falls on a school day.

Rent increase

The board postponed a vote on a 10 percent rent increase to give the administration more time to communicate the increase and its reasons to staff.

Superintendent Sheila Breen said that because the rent for school housing is significantly below fair market value, teachers risk being taxed on the difference between what they pay and what the IRS determines they should pay.

"At some point, the IRS is going to get back to Grand Canyon," she said. "If we're not inching toward something that looks like fair market value, they can compute the value that some IRS agent determines is appropriate for the community and whoever's in that property will be taxed on the value of that."

Metheny said that can be computed back three years.

"I think we can make an argument that we're working toward it," Breen said.

The increase, which would average about $21 a month, would also help offset some high-cost needs like staining the Mohave units and re-roofing three other houses.

"The fact is, if we want to maintain our facilities and not get into a situation where we've got to come up with a lot of money, we have to do gradual increases," she said.

Lunch increase

The board agreed to postpone a vote on increasing school lunch by 25 cents, pending verification that Kelso can locally approve free and reduced lunches for families that are close to but not below the federal cutoff. Even with the increase, lunch fees do not cover the cost of the program, Metheny said.

ELGA

Breen presented a draft copy of the deed for nearly 80 acres of Forest Service land, announcing, "It's gonna happen, guys!"

She said the last thing to be done before the transfer is for the district to pay $799.30, or $10 an acre.

"We should be able to have a signing ceremony in April or May," Breen said. She then asked for a motion to approve the funds and accept the deed.

"I would LOVE to make a motion," said Board President Clarinda Vail, who spearheaded the application with resident Pete Shearer more than four years ago.

Athletics

Athletic Co-Director Barbara Shields presented a draft of the 2008-09 athletic handbook. It follows all of last year's policies and formalizes eligibility periods into two- or three-week blocks, tying them with marking periods rather than to a student's average the week before a game.

Responding to Streit's concerns about a mid-year change, Breen said the guidelines were enacted at the end of the first semester in response to problems with students whose grades were on the borderline of eligibility. According to Kelso, if they fell below 70 percent, some would take advantage of the week or so between the end of a marking period and the mailing of an interim notice to get their grades back up.

"What we started to take a look at, is that there are kids who are gaming the system a little bit," he said. "They're taking advantage of that processing period. The discussion of the committee was that this isn't right. Let's set a deadline for the kid that's a real deadline, that 'thou shalt -' on such and such a date or some eligibility issues are going to kick in."

Athletic Co-director Andrew Aldaz said that they also instituted tutoring for student athletes, allowing them to practice afterwards. Their main problem, he said, is missed assignments.

"If the kids would turn in their homework, most of them would be at 70 percent," he said. "Some kids were missing as many as 10 assignments."

Streit said that while she agrees that students should focus on academics first, she felt the ineligibility periods were long to the point of being "punitive." She also wondered why teachers couldn't compute grades week to week for the small number of students who live on that edge.

"To be ineligible for three weeks at a time is almost defeating for some of these kids," she said. "I think we should look at it again. I'm not directing it from the board but it's a suggestion. They can fail one test and be ineligible for two weeks."

She also suggested that parents, students and coaches be represented in any discussion, and recommended long-time coach and Booster Club officer Greg Walker as a knowledgeable source.

Board member Emmons Berry questioned the policy that prevents a student from playing a Friday or Saturday game if they are absent on Thursday.

"Same day, I can understand," he said.

Breen said that they would send the draft handbook out to parents next week and give them a chance to weigh in on eligibility and this issue as well.

"If they're passionate about it, let's hear from them," she said.

The track team lost Head Coach Gretchen Lampe, who took a job in Alaska. Assistant Coach Kat Michaels continues to work with the team.

Eleven girls signed up for softball and the team has five double-header games. The first game is a home game vs Williams on Saturday, March 29.

Enrollment

The district gained seven students and lost three. Two sophomores and a junior left, while the first grade gained three and third, fourth, seventh and eighth each gained one. Total enrollment is 299.

Discovery

Focus visits are up 63 percent compared to this time last year. As of March 5, there had been 399 referrals, 155 more than the previous year when ditching class didn't earn a focus visit.

"The way we count focus referrals has changed," Kelso noted.

Transportation

Aldaz reported that Canyon State Bus Sales took the school's new bus to Phoenix for warranty service and would return it when finished.

"They wanted to look over all the little detail problems that we've had with it," he said.

The Phantom bus broke down in Kayenta and was taken to Flagstaff for service. Aldaz said they hadn't been able to figure out the source of ongoing problems with the bus.

"It's kind of like you go to the doctor and you're feeling ok right now, then you leave the doctor and something else happens," he said. "That's basically what's been going on with this bus. Hopefully now that it is broken down, we can find out what's going on with it."

Travel

The board approved out of state travel for 40 high school students, for a field trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain May 8-10.

"Have fun, be careful, be smart," said Vail to senior Lizzy Tobin, who explained the request.

They also approved a request by the High School Student Council to travel to Las Vegas April 3-5 for a Stomp Out Loud concert. Wahler cast a dissenting vote after questioning whether it was fair use of Student Council funds to send seven students.

Tobin explained that the council can spend up to $1,200 of the $3,500 in their account and had planned the trip as an incentive to get more students involved, though without much success.

Metheny said there was no prohibition on how the council could spend the funds and he likened it to monies that go toward sports and scholarships for the benefit of relatively few students.

"I'm not concerned about the legality of it," said Wahler. "I'm concerned about how it looks for the group of students that controls those funds to spend it on themselves."

The board also approved travel for 10 middle school students and two coaches to travel to the San Juan River for a river trip March 21-24.

Spending

The board approved payroll vouchers in the amounts of $93,306.02 and $96,025.55. They approved accounts payable vouchers for $30,788.44, $17,405.53, $4,467.60 and $78,528.80.

Metheny said that the $4,467.60 voucher was offset by a grant from the Park Service - 90 percent of the funds to build an outdoor classroom.

Personnel

The board accepted the resignation of second-grade teacher Marilyn Simmons, who is moving to Phoenix for a principal's job.

"Reading, reading, reading, is what I have pushed long and hard. Hopefully, they will not forget," she wrote.

Breen also informed the board that teacher Lynn Alarcon, librarian Nancy Green and Special Education Director Debi Roman will not be returning next year.

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