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School Board Considers Budget Options, Reviews Busing Insurance and Contracts

By Sue Curry Jones

Budget projections and school funding updates were the main focus of Ava R-1 School Board members last Thursday evening. During the session, board members also discussed whether or not to place another plea for a tax levy increase before district voters, and if so, when should the ballot issue appear, during August primary, November general election or spring 2015.

After deciding both issues needed additional forethought and planning, the board scheduled another session for Tuesday, May 27, 6 p.m., wherein decisions will be reached.

Breaking down budget details, Dr. Brian Wilson provided an overview of school salaries by comparing Ava R-1 expenditures to other schools, such as Cabool, Houston, Mtn. Grove, Salem, Thayer, and Willow Springs. In the comparison, Ava’s classified and certified staff pay scale was deemed competitive and generally higher than other districts, except for Salem’s 31-years of service designation.

The comparison noted 74.16 percent of Ava R-1’s general outlay is spent on wages and salaries, with job category breakdowns given as: certified, 43.88%; non-certified, 14.95%; benefits, 15.33%.

Other percentages were: 13.43% for the purchase of services, such as contracting bus drivers; 8.58% for supplies; 3.83%, capital; and 0% debt service.

Wilson noted the average student tuition cost in the state of Missouri is $9,841; Ava’s cost per student is $8,048. The average tax millage rate in the state of Missouri is $3.98; whereas Ava presently retains $2.75.

According to Wilson, the 2013-14 budget is likely to close out in the black with a balance of $128,356; whereas, in previous years, such as 2010 and 2011, the annual budgets ended in deficit spending.

Wilson said even though revenue streams like Proposition C, assessed valuations, and state fund­ing venues are reflecting positive increases for the upcoming year, expenditures are also increasing on many items, such as insurance benefits, gas, utilities and salaries. Wilson advised that when these higher ex­penses are paired with Ava’s diminishing enrollment numbers, the budget for next year is short, leaving a negative balance of $81,163.

Another cost factor included in the $81,163 short fall is an allotment of $15,000, a partial funding amount for sharing in the cost of a school resource officer in 2014-15.

However, Wilson concluded the analysis by saying the school board was in a comfortable situation.

During closed session, the board approved the following positions for the 2014-15 school year: Charlie McDonald, rodeo club sponsor; Chris Sacco, assistant high school band director; and Sarah Sacco, assistant middle school band director.

In other business, board members discussed contract revisions for the bus routes for next year. They also discussed setting a liability threshold on insurance requirements for bus owners.

In the board’s contract with bus owners, the proposed base pay is $1,147.95 per month per bus, for a nine-month year. It was noted mileage is reimbursed at a rate of $2.57 for dirt roads, and $1.82 for paved. A stipend for mobile phone use is $180 per year. The contract stipulates bus owners will furnish a 65-passenger (or greater) bus, and buses must meet minimum Missouri standards, current federal and state regulations, drivers must complete inspection checklists, and fulfill all required odometer readings.

Wilson said the school insurance company recommends $5 million of liability insurance coverage for each bus, in a policy provided by the owner. At present, Wilson advised the average liability coverage for the independently owned buses totals around $641,000 – some bus owners hold $2 million in coverage, and others much less.

Board member Pat Henry endorsed setting $2 million as the liability standard for bus owners for the 2014-15 school year; however, several other board members said bus owners should have advance notice of pending increases –– that from a business planning viewpoint, these increases will continue to occur, so it was important to give owners advance notice on expenses and liability expectations.

Consequently, board member Johnny Burkdoll recommended making the insurance standard for the coming year a $1 million policy, and with each school year thereafter incrementally increasing the liability amount by $250,000, until the $2 million benchmark is attained in four years. The board adopted the plan in a 7-0 vote. They also agreed the school should have an umbrella policy to supplement coverage and protect the school district.

Addressing the issue of offering bus owners multi-year contracts, board members Pat Henry and Marsha Aborn expressed open opposition to the proposal. Henry said teachers do not receive multi-year contracts, therefore bus owners should not be treated preferentially.

Each school year, board members contract transportation for students by engaging the services of bus owners. Next year, the drivers, owners, bus designations, and miles traveled, are as follows:

No. 1, 80.4 miles, Gary Harvill;

No. 2, 72.6 miles, Roger Sanders;

No. 3, 71.6 miles, David Stillings;

No. 4, 69 miles, Bill Holt/owner and driver;

No. 5, 39.6 miles, David Dooms;

No. 6, 72.4 miles, Roger Sanders, owner, and Barbara Sanders, driver;

No. 7, 58.8 miles, Dwain Turner;

No. 8, 49.6 miles, Randy Duckworth;

No. 9, 45.6 miles, Rolla Swofford;

No. 10, 40 miles, Randy Jenkins, and Butch Sisco, sub;

No. 11, 45 miles, Alvie Dooms, owner, and Jackie Holman, driver;

No. 12, 80.4 miles, Mick Swofford;

No. 13, 63.6 miles, Jim Miller, owner, and Stacey Sanders, driver;

No. 14, 78.6 miles, Judy McFarlin, and Philip McFarlin, sub;

No. 15, 81 miles, Rolla Swofford, owner, and Becky Scrivner, driver;

No. 16, 51.7 miles, Larry Vinson;

No. 17, 87.3 miles, Jerry Wagner, and Jan Turner, driver;

No. 18, 58 miles, Dwayne Nash;

No. 19, 56 miles, Clay McFarlin;

No. 20, 48.8 miles, Brenda Miller.

Motions to approve the list were given by Johnny Burkdoll and Dan Watson. The vote was 7-0.

According to a verbal report from school principals, the Breakfast in the Classroom Project trial run was a successful endeavor. Elementary Principal Clint Hall and middle school Principal Mike Henry said students responded well to the breakfast offerings, and the program trial unfolded better than expected.

In a 7-0 vote, with motions from Ron Wallace and Dan Watson, the annual Section 125 Flexible Benefit Plan for medical re-imbursements was approved as presented.

The board also voted to re-instate Marsha Aborn and Jeff Davis as the Missouri School Board Association delegate and alternate, respectively. Motions re-instating the nominees were by Johnny Burkdoll and Dan Watson; the vote was 5-0, with abstentions from Aborn and Davis.

In a 7-0 vote, the board opted to re-contract with the Natural Gas Consortium group for the upcoming school year. The contract agreement is valid through June 30, 2015.

Board members voted to adopt the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Option A Plan as the standard for special education compliance. The vote was 7-0, with motions by Pat Henry and Marsha Aborn.

During the meeting, Principal Clint Hall informed the board the reading programs presently in use in elementary classrooms were old and needing an update. Hall said he was in the process of soliciting bids to assess the cost of purchasing new programs for kindergarten through fourth-grade.

Guidance counselors in the elementary, middle and high school buildings were recognized in the district spotlight last Thursday. In the presentation, each counseling group was commended for a job well done assisting and directing students, teachers and staff during the academic year. Randy Spurlock, board president, gave certificates of recognition to Cara Heath, elementary guidance counselor; Heather Snelson, high school guidance counselor, and Katrina Matney, high school attendance secretary; and Brooke Melton, middle school guidance counselor.

In the community spotlight, the board recognized Sonic Drive-In, of Ava, for supporting endeavors such as the backpack program, student coloring contests, pumpkin contests, and award programs at the school. A note of appreciation was given to Jesse Groth, with Sonic.

Responding to a request from an Ava student, the school board voted 7-0 to test the idea of forming a bass club at Ava schools. Dr. Wilson said bass fishing is now a part of the Missouri State High School Activities Assn. (MSHSAA), and the request for the club was coming from a local student interested in representing the Ava district.  With motions from Dan Watson and Johnny Burkdoll, the request was approved. Wilson said the guidelines for creating a bass club were relatively simple to implement.

Board members in attendance were: Pat Henry, Jeff Davis, Johnny Burkdoll, Randy Spurlock, Ron Wallace, Marsha Aborn, and Dan Watson.

The school board will reconvene on Tuesday, June 17, at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the boardroom, which is accessed on the north side of the Decker Library building. Parking is available in the parking lot between the high school and middle school buildings.