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School Board Holds Special Budget Session, Student Busing Remains Unresolved

By Sue Curry Jones

Ava R-I School Board members met on Monday, June 13, for a study session to address transportation and other budget items for the 2016-17 school year.  Board members present were Troy Tredway, Bart Ellison, Marsha Aborn, Randy Spurlock, Ron Wallace and Lowell Strong.  Vernon Johnson was absent.

The open study session slated for 4:30 p.m. did not begin until well after five o’clock, as board members had convened for a closed session at 3:45 p.m. and the meeting ran longer than anticipated.

During closed session, the board discussed personnel and legal issues, and it has been noted voting action occurred; however, according to Dr. Nancy Lawler, no information is being released at this time.

The budget session began with a brief revisiting of topics from the last transportation meeting which was held on Monday, June 6, as board members Bart Ellison, Ron Wallace and Randy Spurlock were absent.

Superintendent Dr. Nancy Lawler cited that in the June 6 meeting the board had expressed intentions to keep the transportation contract similar in nature to past years, with a base rate of pay, and distinct dirt and paved road rates; and for the board to pay-off the bus route settlement debt within a three year period.

Tredway noted, in the last meeting, administrators were trying to cut the pay scale for route owners in 2016-17, and in essence, their intent was to make the owners payback settlement monies.  He advised “I’m not for that.”

Tredway also suggested it seems prudent to offer bus route owners the option to buy the right to a contract.

But, in response to the comment, Assistant Superintendent Mike Henry advised that Kelli Hopkins had said “you can’t buy the right to a contract.”  Hopkins, an attorney, is Associate Executive Director of the legal counsel for the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA).

Board member Lowell Strong stated he has a problem with the amount of money the school board has spent on attorneys and legal fees.  Strong recommended that the board should decide how the transportation contract is written, and this task should be accomplished without the interference of outside attorneys.  Strong also proposed using a local attorney.

Tredway concurred by saying “I would like to engage a non-MSBA lawyer… one who is a good business contract attorney.”

Strong said he had consulted with two former superintendents on the issue of attorneys and transportation, and both individuals said the same thing –– “school boards do not have to use an MSBA or school law attorney.  Boards have the authority to select a local attorney to research the issue, and draw up a contract for a lot less money.  I would rather keep the Board of Education’s money within our community; but basically, as a board, we can do whatever we want to.”

Bart Ellison commented “I agree with Troy, we need an attorney outside the MSBA.  The MSBA has had a lot to say and the public needs to hear it.  We are making our decisions based on what attorneys’ say, and I feel I had the information I needed to vote.  I did not feel the addendum was any different than what was originally approved.”

MSBA attorneys are going to say “this isn’t normal,” Tredway said, “and we don’t have to follow their advice. As an individual, I don’t go along with what everyone else is doing, sometimes it is better to do what we know is right, rather than what other schools are doing.”

He continued, “Is anyone against saving ½ million dollars?  Some of this is common sense.”

School board member Marsha Aborn stressed “we need to quit jerking the bus drivers around, and stop prolonging this process. We are not being fair to them and their families.”

Strong tendered a motion to hire a local attorney, and Tredway second-ed.  In a 4-2 vote, Tredway, Aborn, Spurlock and Strong supported the motion.  Wallace and Ellison opposed.

Although student transportation remains unsettled, board members acquiesced to a transportation budget number of $615,000.  This figure is slightly above the $595,000 proposed by Tredway in the June 6 meeting; and, it is $135,812 higher than the $479,188 and 20% budget cut Lawler previously recommended for board approval.

Moving forward with the 2016-17 budget study session, Lawler gave a PowerPoint presentation overview of revenues, expenditures, fund titles, the Comprehensive School Improve­ment Plan goals (CSIP), grants, and state and federal funding projections. Noteworthy points were as follows:

  • One-percent of state funding must be used for professional development. This is an expenditure of around $45,000;
  • State funding on transportation is down, from 75% to 64.8%;
  • The current county tax base is up slightly, and Douglas County fines and forfeitures provide $50,000 in revenue. Lawler noted assessed values in Douglas County total 92,838,937, and the current millage rate is 2.75.
  • 40% of school funding comes from local taxes;
  • 45.15% is funded by the State of Missouri;
  • 14.85% is federal funding;
  • Since 2009, the Ava R-I student population has declined, with the loss of 127 students;
  • Three-quarters of the total budget is used to pay salaries and benefits;
  • Preliminary figures predict state funding will be about $4,424,310, which is $30,000 – $50,000 less than last year;
  • The proposed 2016-17 budget will add one step to the certified staff ladder, and $250 to base pay. This adjustment increases budget totals by $186,510.48.
  • In juxtaposition to the increases cited above, budget savings will be incurred as several positions will not be filled. Lawler noted two teaching positions, a part-time custodial job, and cafeteria worker will be removed from the 2016-17 payroll. However, a paraprofessional aide will be added.
  • $100,000-plus is earmarked for the Bears Den program;
  • $100,000-plus for technology;
  • state revenue is projected down by $315,111;
  • Funds for major improvements were earmarked as follows: middle school sidewalks and awnings: concrete forms to contain playground gravel; and mowing, $12,500. A new phone system costing $200,000, and a new field lighting system at the baseball field costing $175,000 were removed from the proposed list of upgrades.  It was acknowledged the budget could be amended to include these new systems if additional funds were to become available.
  • Lawler provided board members with a school board self-evaluation and goals survey, which will be used to assess goals for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The process will likely begin in July.

The school board meets again today (June 16) in regular session, the meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.