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State payments to schools for busing make huge jump

The Kenmare School District’s transportation funds have more than doubled, thanks to changes made in the way the state determines reimbursement to districts for their transportation costs.

1/23/13 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

The Kenmare School District’s transportation funds have more than doubled, thanks to changes made in the way the state determines reimbursement to districts for their transportation costs.

School board members heard the good news during their regular meeting on January 15th. According to business manager Renae Murphy, the Kenmare district has received monthly payments for the $117,352.00 portion of a block grant it receives for transportation costs. That system has been in place for years.

However, the district’s payments increased significantly beginning last fall. Murphy thought the amount had been sent by mistake the first time it happened, but upon examining the paperwork, she discovered the district’s portion will now be $273,246.00 annually.

“They’re paying for miles driven now rather than through a block grant,” she said. “They take into account the miles driven on our five bus routes and the number of students who ride.”

Murphy said the new calculations have been discussed for some time, but not implemented until now. “We will expect a similar amount next year,” she said.

The windfall allowed the Transportation Committee to request bids on a new 16-passenger mini-bus. “We thought this would be a good opportunity to maintain our fleet in good working order,” said chairman Craig Ellsworth. “We’re also going to recommend going with gas engines because of the new EPA requirements and because [gas buses] are about $10,000 cheaper than a diesel bus.”

Ellsworth said the committee wants to see the bid amounts before deciding whether to simply purchase one more mini-bus to add to the two mini-buses already in use by the district or to trade off one bus and buy two new mini-buses.

Adding a third mini-bus to the fleet could more easily accommodate small groups of students traveling for school activities. Ellsworth said the committee also likes the idea that drivers for the mini-buses can use a regular driver’s license without a special bus endorsement.

The current bus routes and drivers for those routes was another concern of the Transportation Committee, according to Ellsworth. “We have great gentlemen who have been great drivers for us,” he said, “who probably won’t be driving for us much longer.”

He explained the committee is concerned about a majority of the drivers retiring at the same time, with several of them eligible for retirement soon.

“We looked at several options to deal with this,” he said. “Do we create a position for drivers that’s full-time? That could include some driving and some custodial duties. Another option is to partner with other businesses, with the drivers released from that job to drive for us.”

A third option involves putting more mini-buses to work as route buses. “That way, we could have a school staff member driving,” Ellsworth said. “We also need to consider bus driver wages and make sure we’re paying what’s fair in the market.”

Bids for a mini-bus will be reviewed at the February board meeting.

Board retreat topics
Board members met for an informal retreat prior to the January 15th meeting to discuss a variety of topics, including classroom issues given the increasing student population, changes required for the district’s health insurance plans, changes to property taxes under review by the state legislature, and a possible special election to approve an increase in the building fund tax levy.

During the retreat, the board received sample policies regarding weapons, violent and threatening behavior, and the board’s communication with the public. Superintendent Mueller asked board members to review the policies and consider revisions for their use by the Kenmare school district. The board’s Policy Committee will begin working on the policies in February.

Curriculum considerations were another topic of discussion as high school principal Robert Thom drafts a schedule that would use seventh period as the only study hall time during the day. “We offer quite an array of classes here and we want to encourage kids to enroll in those,” Mueller said, adding that the number of study hall periods taken by one student should be limited.

Board members discussed adding curriculum in family and consumer science, media, and vo-tech training such as mechanics and carpentry to better prepare students for entry into the workforce after graduation, but Ellsworth advised careful review of the current classes. “We have a strong focus,” he said, “and we’ve done well with the academics here.”

During the retreat, representatives of Kraus-Anderson Construction talked about the need for and vision of a building expansion with board members. The board indicated an interest in hiring a construction manager to serve as a liaison with the board, board patrons, school staff, architects, contractors and crew members for such a project.

In the only official action taken as a direct result of the retreat, the board approved a motion to request for qualification a construction manager for the proposed building project.

In other business:
• Board members approved minutes of the December meeting and the district’s bills for payment, as presented.

• Lars Christensen, Jan Kostad and Blaine Huff will represent the Kenmare School District at the North Dakota School Boards Association negotiations seminar scheduled for February 7-9 in Bismarck.

• The board scheduled the evaluation for Superintendent Duane Mueller for February 12th, in order to meet the March 15th deadline.

• Elementary principal Janis Gerding reported an enrollment of 170 students in grades kindergarten through six, with little impact seen from absences because of illness.

• Gerding told board members about a book club librarian Jean Barnhart planned to start with the 5th grade students, the first grade field trip to the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, and the continued popularity of the IXL online math program, with students logging 755 hours on the program in December and 957 hours to date in January. “I expected to see [work with IXL] decline, but it’s not,” she said.

• The Kenmare fourth graders will participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams on February 7th, with the 8th and 11th graders. Gerding reminded board members that individual and school results are not received from this assessment, with the scores used only on the national report card for education.

• Superintendent Duane Mueller reported an estimate of $15,275.00 to replace the two sets of entrance doors to Kenmare Elementary School. He described the doors as having bullet-proof glass with a different type of locking system. “These are a better quality and better insulated than what we have there now,” he said. The doors will be replaced during the summer months.

• Mueller informed the board that federal Title I funds could be reduced or eliminated for the 2013-2014 school year, depending on action taken by Congress between now and March 1st. Title I funds are used for teacher salaries and other expenses for students with special learning needs in the district. “We will be monitoring the situation,” he said.

• Mueller also noted the crawl space below the classroom area at the high school remains dry, with continued operation of the fan and dehumidifiers installed there.

• The next regular meeting of the Kenmare school board was scheduled for Tuesday, February 12, beginning at 6 pm at Kenmare High School. The superintendent’s evaluation will be included at the end of the meeting agenda.