Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kiel Area School Board Annual Meeting

Annual School Board Meeting
October 25, 2010

The annual School Board meeting began with the call to order and the Pledge of Allegiance. Dr. Louise Blankenheim and Ruthie Rumpff spoke about the School District's Mission Statement, focusing on “future focused education.”

The discussion then moved to the Budget and the School Levy increase for 2010/2011. The information discussed prompted audience members, including myself, to question further and share concerns about the numbers being discussed.

Student enrollment has dropped off, from 1,452 in 2008/2009 to 1,407 in 2009/2010 and 1,394 in 2010/2011. This decline has resulted in less money from the state, which funds 59% of our students education. (Property taxes make up 31.5% and local grants cover the remaining 9.5% of the amount.) The student enrollment looks to continue to drop off as there are approximately 139 High School students in the graduating class this year (2010/2011) and only 90 Kindergarten students enrolled this year.

Among the issues discussed were the fact that the school district has to spend to the maximum to receive the maximum. This formula, put in place by the Board of Education at the state level, makes no sense when it comes to budgeting in a fiscally responsible manner. The Kiel School District set aside $686,057 so the budget would not run short last year. The state looked at that and said “you didn't spend that amount, we're going to give you that much less this year.”

When asked what portion of the health insurance was paid by the union teachers/staff, the answer was 5%. In the private sector, health insurance co-pays range from 15% to 50% and beyond. While this is negotiated by the Teachers Union and the School Board, there is very little room to negotiate. The unions aren't willing to settle for less, even if some of the teachers agree. They come back with the threat of arbitration which leads to expensive hearings and, most times, an increase in the terms for the teachers. The binding arbitration laws that are in place have so stifled our school district, and our city government, that it's nearly impossible to fight the unions and win. I did bring up the idea of communities joining together to fight the unions for better negotiations, especially when it comes to the teacher contracts, but I was told that “it's very difficult to work together.” If we don't stand together, we'll fall apart, and pay the taxes regardless.

The tax levy increase of $6,102,011 was approved. This increases our current levy amount of $860 per $100,000 of a home's value to $912 per $100,000 of a home's value, an increase of $52. While this may not seem like a great amount, consider that, with the approval of the Fire Station upgrades and additions, our taxes will go up approximately $52 as well. An increase like this on our taxes in these trying economic times is adding insult to injury.

I realize that sacrifices need to be made, but when the idea of having local businesses look at the schools to see what needs have to be addressed, and then getting the community involved in deciding what needs have to be addressed in a referendum is shot down with little or no discussion in favor of having an independent study of the district and its needs done (and at a significant cost), one has to wonder where the priorities of the School Board really lie. The referendum is in our future, and the study that the School Board is requesting proposals for is meant to “sell” it to the citizens of this city and school district.

Another topic of discussion was the request from the School Board to authorize the sale and/or disposal of school property if determined appropriate by the Board. This was denied and left as an open issue pending change of the language prohibiting the school from selling land or buildings without the community's approval. It didn't sound like this issue would be addressed until next year's Annual Meeting.

Other concerns were brought up as well. We all know that our young people need to be aware of what is happening in the world. However, we are a School District of a State of the United States. We are not a School District of the World. We need to teach our students about our own history, laws and citizenship (and its responsibilities) first, and then look outside our borders.

Curriculum replacements and upgrades are something every school district looks at and needs to be aware of. We were very unhappy with some of the curriculum being used and the lack of the fundamentals being taught to our children. I asked that when any curriculum comes up for review, that I, along with other parents, be able to research it, read and critique it. Even if we aren't utilizing Kiel Area School District for our children, we still want the best education for all of the students attending the schools.

I walked away from the meeting last night with an understanding of where the School Board is coming from, but with a very skeptical view of just how serious they are about cutting costs and minimizing the effect on the taxpayers. We need more people to get involved. The Valders School District had their Annual Meeting last week and had over 200 people there. We were lucky to have 30 people, including School Board members and District personnel.

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