Schools could lose $300,000

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

McCook Public Schools business manager Rick Haney told board members at their monthly meeting Monday evening that the district could lose up to $300,000 in its budget due to federal budget crunches.

Haney said, "It's a large amount of money that is going to go away, $250,000 to $300,000 a year."

Haney said that several years ago, through a lawsuit, public schools were determined to be providing services -- such as counseling, educational processes and addressing social issues -- that the federal government's Medicaid program should be providing.

To determine monetary compensation to schools, a school has been required to complete intensive time studies, Haney said, outlining, in 15-minute increments, what services it is providing that are Medicaid-identified activities.

"Because of federal budget crunches, those funds are at risk," Haney said.

Haney also reported that food service receipts dropped 17 percent in September, when the food service provider, Sodexho, discontinued its program of delivering lunch from the junior high cafeteria to the senior high commons area.

Not as many students are going to the junior high, Haney said, resulting in a 17 percent drop in receipts.

Haney said he is working with new Sodexho management in McCook to restore a lunch option at the senior high.

Haney said the school district is seeking proposals on three vans to replace long vans that have been outlawed for student transportation. The McCook school district has nine such long vans, and will need to replace three each year for the next three years.

The new vans must meet state legislative, Nebraska Department of Education and insurance industry specs, eliminating the six-foot storage area behind the seats and beyond the back axle.

"We're not sacrificing passengers (seating)," Haney said. "We're sacrificing cargo. It will require some creative packing, but we can do it."

Haney told board members that he and Superintendent Dave Schley are working on a report/plan to meet requirements of LB 641, which addresses state funding tied to students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and/or those who are impoverished.

According to the state Legislature, the poverty plan must address attendance, student mobility, parental involvement, class size, uninterrupted teaching time, access to early childhood education programs for poverty students, student access to social workers, access to summer school, mentoring for new and reassigned teachers, professional development for teachers focused on the educational needs of poverty students and students from diverse backgrounds, coordination with elementary learning centers and evaluation of the poverty plan.

An LEP plan must address identification of students with limited English proficiency, instructional approaches, assessment of students' progress toward mastering the English language and evaluation of the limited English proficiency plan.

Haney said McCook is in good shape in both areas, and is meeting the needs of students who fall into one or both categories.

Schley said the report/plan makes a school accountable for showing how state funds are spent.

Haney said if a school does not turn in its report/plan, it will not receive state funds allocated to meet the needs of these students.

Haney admitted to board members that "no one has a crystal ball," but he encouraged them to identify as many major purchases as possible to be included in a strategic planning program.

Money put away in a depreciation fund, and earmarked for specific projects, will help the district absorb expenses over time, Haney said.

Haney recommended creating a committee to study the district's needs for the next five to eight years.

Superintendent Dave Schley said that he and MHS Student Council members discussed "weighted classes" and number and percentage grades when they met recently for an informal bull session.

Schley told board members that StuCo members are in favor of "weighted classes", classes that have more value and earn more credits than others.

He said students also want clarification between number and percentage grades. "They want more ways to split hairs," Schleysaid, "to determine valedictorian and salutatorian." StuCo members are opposed, Schley said, to the current system which determines the top 10 students and those who earn perfect 4.0 averages, without designating the top two students.

Schley said StuCo members want to go back to longer seminar periods, but said he got "growls and snarls" when he talked about shorter lunch breaks.

StuCo representatives at the board meeting told board members that the group has $500 in its "Make-A-Wish" fund following its most-recent fund-raiser.

Board members Tom Bredvick and Larry Shields reported that a liaison meeting with junior high teachers was a positive experience.

Bredvick said he and Shields discussed junior high issues with teachers Tom Lentz, Gene Weedin, Cindy Wilcox and Colleen Olson:

* The enthusiasm that is growing for junior high sports, and the fit and condition of hand-me-down sports uniforms from the senior high.

* The possibility of teacher training at ESU 15 and then the incorporation into and increased usage of technology in junior high classrooms.

* The assurance of 100 percent testing (state-mandated assessment testing) of McCook students. "We're not testing 100 percent of our students," Bredvick said, which ultimately affects the school's final assessment. Someone needs to be designated as accountable/responsible for testing students who miss assessment tests, he said.

Shields said he, Bredvick and teachers discussed a concern that principal Dennis Berry must split his time between the junior high and Central Elementary, that issues at the junior high in the afternoon sometimes must wait until Berry returns to the junior high the next morning.

Shields said he was impressed that several students commented on his casual attire -- "jeans and a T-shirt" -- and that they thought he should have dressed up for the liaison meeting with teachers. Shields said it reminded him that board members "are in the eyes of the kids," and that they must be positive examples to students.

McCook Senior High's new tennis courts have been named small court national "Facility of the Year" by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).

Board president Greg Larson said the new courts have also been awarded a Nebraska facility award.

"There's no monetary value, just recognition and plaques," Larson said. Award presentations are planned in Norfolk Dec. 15.

The school has developed a new handbook for classified employees -- para-educators, custodial, maintenance, bus drivers, secretarial and the business management team.

Business manager Rick Haney wrote in the handbook introduction, "It is important to remember that classified employees have an impact on the lives of our students, just as teachers and other professional members. Without the proper completion of responsibilities by the classified employees, the children in our community will not receive a quality education."

The handbook provides guidelines concerning salaries, benefits and school procedures.

Board member Tom Bredvick said that the pay package for McCook's classified employees is one of the best among Nebraska schools of comparable size. "Our pay rate is better than most," he said, "and our benefits are the best."

During board and administration comments, Schley said that the cost of the district's contract for its heating/cooling maintenance with the Seaman's company will likely go down in a new contract. Schley anticipates the decrease because the school district's maintenance personnel is able to do most of the maintenance work themselves.

Schley said, however, he strongly recommends retaining the company's technical support.

Cassie Olson, student representative on the board, asked board members why the journalism department must pay for transportation to the state journalism contest in the fall and spring when the football team doesn't have to pay its own way to state championships.

Haney said that's the way it's always been done; no one questioned it in the past. "Is it fair? Probably not," Schley said. "Can it be looked into? It probably should be."

Board member Shane Messersmith said that because journalism is a curricular activity, the district should pay for its transportation costs.

Haney said it is possible that, in the future, transportation costs for the journalism class to attend the state competition can be included in the building budget apportioned for the high school.

During the closing of the meeting, called, "Positive Comments," these statements were made:

* Schley said he enjoyed the prayer breakfast during McCook's annual Heritage Days celebration. "It was terrific," he said, encouraging more school representation at next year's event.

Schley also said that a presentation by Steve Suskind at Central Elementary included "an excellent message" against bullying.

Schley said he is enthusiastic about the array of fine arts available in McCook, and that he wants to introduce more fine arts into the McCook schools.

* Board member Diane Lyons said she enjoyed reading the latest edition of the high school's "Stampede" newspaper, and its coverage of the sensitive issue of death in the family and within the extended school family.

Lyons also said that she enjoys hearing the high school band practicing at 7 a.m., and that the music and drum cadence help wake her husband, Phil. Diane Lyons said she appreciates the efforts of band director Donita Priebe. "She's doing a phenomenal job with the band," Lyons said.

* Board member Shane Messersmith said he and his family have appreciated phone calls and expressions of concern and support from Mr. Schley, teachers and students after Messersmith's son, Collin, was injured in an ATV accident in September and was hospitalized in Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney. "He's doing OK," Shane said, and had a follow-up check planned Tuesday. Collin is a seventh grader.

* Messersmith said he and Shields enjoyed attending "Husker Harvest Days" in Grand Island with the high school's new FFA Chapter. Shields said he was proud that the FFA group participated with a float in McCook's Heritage Days parade.

Shields also said that he was impressed with the band's performance in the Heritage Days parade. "People couldn't say enough about the band," he said.

* Gonzales also commented on the latest edition of the high school's newspaper, which included, he said, "sensitive, well-written stories."

Gonzales also joked that the Y -- which sits beside the high school's new tennis courts -- is "getting a great collection of tennis balls. I'm sellin' 'em back," he laughed.

Gonzales said, "We even have kids shaggin' 'em now." He said that Y employees are putting the balls in a sack, and giving them back to the school -- they're not really selling them.

* Cassie Olson said that the MHS National Honor Society and McCook Christian Church both plan "fifth quarter" activities for MHS students after the football game Friday night. "There are lots of positive opportunities for students to be involved in," Olson said.

Larson extended his thanks to Cassie's father, Tor, who took photographs of the new tennis courts for inclusion in the courts' nomination for the national and state honors, and met "really tough deadlines."

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