Board hears innovative district update

By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer

 The USD 333 board of education heard an update Monday night on last week's announcement that Concordia had been named as one of the first two members of the Innovative Districts Coalition.
 Concordia and McPherson were chosen last Wednesday from eight initial applicants to be a part of the coalition, which was established under a law enacted by the state Legislature in 2013. The law will allow the districts to exempt themselves from several regulations currently governing kindergarten through 12th grade education.
 Becoming an innovative district, Superintendent Bev Mortimer said, will allow USD 333 more freedom to reach its goal of graduating every student with at least a year of college and/or an industry recognized certification. Concordia's application said limited personnel resources in rural areas hinder college and career readiness, while statutes in licensure, accreditation, career and technical education pathways, and limits on local credits block school districts like Concordia from bridging the gap and creating a seamless K-12 transition to post-secondary opportunities.
 "We talked about the things that are obstacles for us," Mortimer said in making the decision to apply for innovative status. "When it really came down to it, we felt strong enough to say we think we can do better for our kids if we can do this."
 Concordia's spot in the coalition is not set in stone yet, Mortimer said, as the state board of education now must review the applications and give final approval.
 The state board of education has asked the attorney general for his opinion as to whether the Legislature has the authority to grant the exemptions. The state board has 90 days to make its decision.
 "They can vote to approve it, or they can send it back to us and say they want more information and drag it out," Mortimer said.
 Once the state board gives its approval, Mortimer said she and Randy Watson, superintendent of the McPherson school district, will review the other districts' application for possible inclusion as innovative districts.
"This whole thing was meant to bring a coalition of districts together that really want to work on innovative issues," Mortimer said.
 Mortimer also updated the board on the recent school finance ruling handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court last week.
 The high court ruled that cuts in education funding since 2010 led to an unconstitutionally imbalanced playing field between rich and poor schools. Its decision means lawmakers by July 1 must close the gap – estimated by state education officials to be $129 million – or a panel of three district court judges will decide how to do it for them.
 Mortimer said the equity portion of the court's ruling ordered the Legislature to fully fund the state aid and equalization money in the capital outlay and local option budget that had been cut over the past few years.
 "If they do nothing and just sit it out, there is a mechanism in place that we will get our state aid in the LOB and capital outlay," Mortimer said.
 However, she said, the worst case scenario would be that the Legislature decides to eliminate the capital outlay and LOB funding altogether.
 "They could drop the LOB and just make it all part of the general fund," she said. "Those are very drastic things that could happen, and if they go drastic, we're in trouble because the only people being hurt with cuts (in state aid) are the districts who aren't so wealthy."
 Mortimer said USD 333's capital outlay is funded by two mills of district tax dollars. The state should be giving the district another $39,997 in state aid on top of that. Mortimer said that state aid is in place to equalize the district so local mills raise as much as mills in wealthier districts.
 If the Legislature were to do away with capital outlay and LOB funding, she said, that money would be redistributed to all districts, meaning Concordia would receive less than it does now. Mortimer said if the Legislature does propose changes to school funding, it would go back to the three-judge panel in Shawnee County for review, which would be "a drawn out process and we would be stuck where we are."
 In action items, the board approved retirements of Cindy Kocher, third grade teacher, and Tim Berger, high school social science teacher. The resignation of Deb Reah, assistant special education director, was also accepted. Reah has accepted the position of director of the North Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative.
 The board also accepted a low quote from Tom Hamel of Hamel Electric, Clyde, for the installation of approximately 29 electrical outlets for ceiling-mounted projectors at the Elementary School. Hamel's quote of $78 per room, or a total of $2,262, was $319 less than a quote from Concordia electrician Chris Stupka.
 Board member Steve Wetter asked if $300 was enough of a difference to go with Hamel over a Concordia-based electrician. Board member Pat Murk said she was comfortable with Hamel doing the work, and that every penny the district can save counts. On a 6-1 vote, with Wetter casting the dissenting vote, the board approved Hamel's quote.
 The board also approved the 2014-2015 school calendar. School will begin on August 14, and end on May 21.
 Resolutions expressing support for funding all-day kindergarten, as well as keeping city and school elections in the month of April were also approved.


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