By Mike Sherfy, KnoxPages.com Reporter
HOWARD - Although the bulk of the evening was consumed by a lengthy response to an expression of “No Confidence” by the local teachers union, the East Knox Board of Education nonetheless accomplished a good deal of business this past Wednesday.
The Board announced, for instance, that—even though they had decided not to attempt to place another levy increase on the ballot at the next opportunity—they were discussing with County Auditor Jonette Curry the possibility of altering the way the current levies fund the district. As it stands, East Knox school funding is divided between monies earmarked for the General Fund for general operations and a Permanent Improvement Fund for permanent improvements. Because the use of permanent improvement fund is restricted, it frequently carries over money from one year to the next even when the General Fund runs into deficits. The Board will explore the possibility of putting a measure on the ballot to eliminate the Permanent Improvement Fund and place all of the funding into the more accessible and flexible General Fund—which, if past precedent holds true, could be sufficient to bring the district out of Fiscal Emergency status.
Several audience members expressed concerns that such a shift would eliminate any sort of “rainy day” cushion available to deal with infrastructure and maintenance issues.
“We generally have money standing over in that,” responded Board President Lemley. “And, if we have a $200,000 surplus and that meant saving three teaching jobs, I’d rather roll that PI money over—at least until we can pass a levy.” He then pointed out that Danville schools had no Permanent Improvement funds and operated successfully.
“How many school districts statewide have done away with their permanent improvement fund?” asked an audience member. “I would like to see those facts and figures too,” replied Lemley. “We aren’t putting it out there to vote on it tonight. We need more information.”
In lieu of a typical Public Participation segment, the Board then responded to a letter submitted to it in September by the East Knox Education Association. That went on for a while. Details are available in a separate story at KnoxPages.com.
Treasurer Jessie Busenberg then presented to the Board a summary of past and projected revenues and expenditures. While the numbers were not dire, neither were they optimistic. Busenberg expected that the district would finish the 2015/16 school year with a $200,000 surplus but projected that the 2016/17 school year would end with a $152,000 shortfall.
Her report made clear that much of the problem stemmed from a consistent increase in open enrollments out of the East Knox district. During the 2008/09 school year, for instance, the net financial loss due to students leaving the district was already $999,897. For the 2014/15 school year, the net loss was $1,588,612. Since state-funding remained well below the levels received ten years ago, the open enrollment losses were obviously significant.
Busenberg also pointed out that, although the school had saved more than $2,000,000 since August 2009, it did so in ways that may not be sustainable moving forward. The district has already eliminated more than 31 full-time equivalent positions and non-required electives—including no K-8 art classes, music classes, physical education classes, library improvements, or recommended computer upgrades.
A sizable number of veteran teachers and employees had left the district to be replaced by less-expensive and less-experienced employees—or were not replaced at all. No employees had received base salary increases during the past seven years and some employees had received experience-pay increases only during the 2009/10 and 2010/11 school years. Employee insurance benefits had been reduced and supplemental contracts for many academic and athletic extra-curricular activities had been reduced or eliminated. School-funded day field trips have been eliminated and participation fees had been imposed for Jr/Sr High athletes and band members.
Finally, Busenberg pointed out that the District continued to have the lowest equivalent millage rate among neighboring districts by a considerable amount. According to information gathered from the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Knox County Auditor, East Knox schools has a millage rate of 26.38. Danville (with funding determined by property and income taxes) has a rate equivalent to 35.86 mills. Mount Vernon clocked in at 33.83 mills, Centerburg at 31.8 mills, North Fork at 31.67, Northridge at 31.43 mills, and Fredericktown at 28.71 mills.
The Board accepted Treasurer Busenberg’s report.
It then approved the receipt of a donation of $800.00 from the Knox County Educational Service Center for transportation to the Youth Enrichment Series (YES) concerts at Mount Vernon’s Memorial Theater during the school year and the donation of $150 from Kokosing Valley, Inc. for an FFA tubing trip during the summer.
Although it is not legal to ban the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on public property, the Board passed a measure to protect district students by approving a resolution restricting their use on school property during athletic contests, practices, and events sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
It then passed a resolution of intent to NOT provide career-technical education to students in Grade 7 and Grade 8 and requested a waiver from the state’s requirement to do so from the Ohio Board of Education.
The Board approved an overnight FFA trip to the National FFA Convention in Lexington, KY from October 28-31, 2015.
It approved a service agreement with Dennis A. Marikis of Mansfield Psychological Services to provide required psychological services for the 2015/16 school year at a rate of $800 per student. It also approved a service agreement with Behavioral Health Partners of Central Ohio, Inc. to provide Elementary Counseling Services to be paid out of Title I Federal Grant Funds (not to exceed $8,060.00).
The Board also approved the purchase of an installed snow plow from Fast Eddy’s for $5,422.99, total cost to be paid out of Permanent Improvement Funds.
Beverly Sivits was hired as Testing Coordinator for the 2015/16 school year. Charles Rex was hired as a Substitute Bus Driver/Custodian. Kelly Schwartz was hired as a Substitute Nurse.
The Board approved the payment of $150.00 to all certified staff members who attend training on February 12, 2016, total cost to be paid from Federal Professional Development Grant Funds.
It extended supplemental contracts to Emily Morris (Assistant Coach, JV Girls Basketball), Craig Gilmore (Assistant Coach, JV Boys Basketball), William Stokes (Coach, 8th Grade Boys Basketball), William Randy Reese (Coach, 7th Grade Boys Basketball), Joseph Totten (Coach, JH Girls Basketball), Alex Keen (Coach, JH Wrestling), Tony Bonsignore (Volunteer Assistant), Ray Welch (Volunteer Assistant), Nate Cooper (Volunteer Assistant) and Cole Forshey (Volunteer Assistant).