KUSD standing committee meetings report
This evening, there were four Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) monthly school board standing committee meetings held at the Educational Support Center on 52nd Street, in Kenosha. Below is a summary of those meetings and the items discussed:
Planning/Facilities/Equipment Committee Meeting
Patrick Finnemore, director of facilities, gave a report on the status of the McKinley Middle School Building and site. They have been working behind the scenes on a detailed bar-coded inventory with pictures. The furniture and technology will be moved to other Title I middle schools (Washington, Lincoln, and Bullen). (Equipment funded by Title I funds must be relocated to another Title I school.) They will be evaluating the best use for everything, and trying to meet the needs of the school principals.
Finnemore stated that there are several options for the building once the school is closed. These include selling the building, using the building for some other purpose, demolishing the building, or holding onto it for possible future use. Similar to other schools that KUSD has closed, including the most recent ones like Columbus, Durkee, and Bain, Finnemore stated that their preference would be to sell the building, if possible.
The building is over 90 years old, it sits in a residential neighborhood, and it is over 100,000 square feet in size. Finnemore stated that they have already had one potential buyer surface which provides some promise towards the possible sale. It is expected that if they do pursue selling the building, that they would use a process similar to the one used when Columbus Elementary School was sold this past year. School board member Bob Nuzzo stated that “McKinley has good bones. It has solid things there. We don’t have to sell it tomorrow. None of the other schools are at capacity. Therefore, there is no need for this facility for the foreseeable future.” Finnemore confirmed all of what Nuzzo said.
Besides the normal cleaning and maintenance that takes place every summer, the focus in the month of June will be the emptying of the three leased charter schools that are moving this year. The leases for Brompton, Harborside, and Paideia all expire at the end of June, making those moves the first priority for the summer. Therefore, the emptying of McKinley will not begin in earnest until July, and it probably will not be until towards the end of the summer that the building will be in a condition that would easily support a real estate-type marketing effort. The timing of the RFP will probably coincide with the August/September timeframe. Finnemore stated that they will however, willingly bring any interested party through the building prior to the RFP process in order to help identify potential bidders similar to what was done at Columbus last year. It is expected that the entire process could take well over a year as Columbus took seven months, and they had a very interested buyer before they even started the process.
Finnemore then went over the major maintenance project status report. He stated that most of these are last year’s projects, which have been completed. The charter school move has been one of their biggest projects. They started work at Reuther the first of March, at Vernon during spring break, and Indian Trail’s Infant Lab two weeks ago. Completing the work while school is in progress has kept costs down. Finnemore stated that the projects are going very well.
One project is left, which is an exterior envelope project, which cannot start until school gets out. For next year, there is a budget of $100,000 for capital projects, and this will be used for emergency projects only. In January, 2013, the budget for the following year will start being developed. School board member JoAnn Taube noticed that there was a balance of approximately $71,000, and she asked if that would be moved to a contingency fund. Finnemore replied that that money would be used to help balance the budget.
And, lastly, Finnemore reviewed the utility budget and energy savings program. Lower than expected natural gas prices and the mild weather have contributed to the savings that KUSD experienced. They spent $159,848 less on natural gas this year as compared to last year, and $289,094 less than two years ago. On the other hand, they spent $76,413 more on electricity this year as compared to last year, which is due to the opening of the south addition at Indian Trail.
Taube complimented Finnemore on how many more schools have been added to the list of schools that have earned the EPA’s energy star status. KUSD has three schools that are very close to joining that list: Nash Elementary, Pleasant Prairie Elementary, and Prairie Lane Elementary. Finnemore stated that they are working on minor improvements in operations to get those three schools to the required level of energy efficiency.
Taube also inquired about the use of TruGreen to apply weed killer to the grassy areas of the KUSD schools. Kevin Christoun, maintenance supervisor, arranged to have estimates done for every school in the district for the schools’ parent-teacher groups. A few schools are looking to approve the applications. At one school, one parent is apparently going to fund the work. Finnemore stated that, in his 12 years at the district, they have never contracted for fertilizer or week killer applications, except at the high school athletic fields.
Audit/Budget/Finance Committee Meeting
Belinda Grantham, the pre-school director, spoke to the group about the Head Start federal grant cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The grant provided $14,393 of supplemental funding to provide a COLA for Head Start staff.
Acceptance of this grant states that “all staff in Head Start programs must receive a COLA of at least 0.72 percent in their hourly rate of pay.” For the KUSD Head Start program, “all staff” would include secretaries, education support personnel, miscellaneous staff, and teachers. Due to the budget cuts that KUSD is currently experiencing, only teachers and those employees who would move up a step would have the opportunity for a salary increase. Because they are not able to meet the base requirement of this grant, administration requested that that the COLA request that was previously submitted be withdrawn. This was approved by the committee, and will be forwarded on to the full board at its next meeting, which will take place on Tuesday, May 22nd.
Chief financial officer Tina Schmitz gave a review of the RFP for audit services for the district. Schenck Business Solutions’ contract expires this year. The RFP was sent to seven agencies, and four responded. Schenck came out on top as far as the firm’s profile, qualifications, technical points, and cost. Schenck has provided quality services at competitive pricing during their term as the district’s auditor. This year, KUSD will have a new partner and lead auditor conducting the audit, both of whom have considerable governmental and school district experience. This will provide for a fresh perspective of the district’s financial reporting, while allowing for consistency and efficiency in the audit services.
In the RFP that went out, Schmitz also asked for an estimate to perform the review of the comprehensive annual financial report. Even though Schenck’s cost estimate was not an unreasonable price, Schmitz stated that she would perform the work again this year. “The district is not in any position to pay for any extras,” she said.
Nuzzo wanted to make sure that the contract would contain some language for the district if they wanted to terminate the contract. “This is not the case right now with some of our contracts,” he said.
It was administration’s recommendation that the district engage Schenck for its professional auditing services. They recommended that the contract continue for the next three years, with two two-year extensions. The committee approved this request, and forwarded this recommendation to the full board for consideration.
Schmitz also walked the group through the dashboard report as of April 23, 2012. She stated that there was not much change from last month’s report. Schmitz said that they will be using the education jobs grant money of $300,000 to supplement the expense to retiree payouts this year. It will also offset the $300,000 in unemployment expense overage that she discussed last month.
A bit of good news was that just today, Moody’s released an updated rating for the district. They took off the downgrade and gave the district a “stable” rating. “This is huge for the district,” Schmitz said. “Both Moody’s representatives said that it’s not typical to have a negative outlook taken off and changed to a stable outlook unless there has been a recent audit.” This shows management’s dedication and their confidence in the district. KUSD, then, continues with its A1 rating due to its progress in building up the fund balances. “This will also help with funding,” said Schmitz.
The monthly financial statements were then reviewed, and Schmitz said that there were no significant items to mention. They are watching the salaries and benefits costs very closely so as not to have any unpleasant surprises such as the ones that presented themselves last year.
Two capital projects funds are running at a deficit, which should be ok by the end of the year. The roof work on Indian Trail High School project has yet to be closed out. Schmitz was asked the question if the district had revenues to support this work, and the answer was no. The money would be taken from the general fund. Schmitz is watching every expenditure. She stated that she denied the purchase of a stapler today.
The cash and investment quarterly report was also reviewed through March of 2012. “We don’t have a great interest rate,” Schmitz stated. “The highest is 15 basis points. Schmitz stated that there is a tight week in June that she is monitoring closely. She also said that she hasn’t paid down the $9.5 million note yet. She plans on holding the cash until after this tight week in June and until the state financial aid payment comes in, but she does plan on making the payment by the end of June.
Joint Audit/Budget/Finance and Curriculum/Program Committee Meeting
Pat Demos, community school relations manager, gave a brief synopsis of the Mary Frost Ashley Charitable Trust grant application which was submitted on April 20th. In two weeks, they will find out how much money, if any, they will receive as a result of this grant submission. The plan is to use the money for funding the annual Back-to-School event, providing school supplies to elementary schools for distribution to their needy students, parent education trainings for the new “family” structure, family engagement learning opportunities, parenting skills development, particularly in the area of behavioral management, and support to families that are experiencing challenges with lack of education, employment, and resources; and student engagement learning opportunities that will assist them in developing life skills, engaging in community service, and experiencing new opportunities such as a visit to a university, cultural center, theatre, and/or athletic event.
Last year, Demos stated that they applied for $120,000, and received $80,000. The committee approved administration’s recommendation to forward this one-year proposal to expand the district’s comprehensive family education training and student learning opportunities to the full board for their approval.
Curriculum/Program Committee Meeting
Both of the charter school contracts (one for Kenosha’s eSchool, and the other for Harborside Academy) were approved for forwarding to the full board on May 22nd. Both are three-year contracts commencing on May 22nd, 2012. Kris Keckler, eSchool principal, summarized the three main reasons for the contract revamp: to refine the outdated charter and make all of the district’s charter schools in alignment, to identify state requirements, and to expand to the K-5 program.
Elizabeth Daghfahl inquired about the seven-credit limit and how the world languages program would work in eSchool. Keckler replied that the final exams are taken in person, and that there is an oral component throughout the entire class. Students will use free software to record their voices speaking the language, and then send it in to their teacher through voice mail messages.
Barbara Anderson stated that her daughter has taken two eSchool classes in order to be able to graduate early. Her experience has been very positive.
Taube stated that this also helps the students who are home-bound due to medical reasons. Keckler agreed that it lends itself with their format. Currently, the only offerings during the summer are physical education and health, but they would eventually like to offer other courses through summer school eSchool when there is enrollment to justify it.
William Haithcock, Harborside Academy principal, then took the group through his school’s charter agreement. This winter, the board decided that Harborside Academy would move to the building currently housing Reuther Central High School. It was also decided that Harborside would merge, starting July 1, 2012, with Paideia Academy making Harborside a 6th through 12th grade charter school. The governance board requested an additional five-year charter renewal, and it was approved for forwarding on to the full board.