Morrill School holds community meeting, residents give comments on array of topics
By, Amanda Bosse, The Voice News - February 14, 2018
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MORRILL – The Morrill School Board recently held a very well attended open meeting to discuss the state of the District with the public.
Not only was this a presentation on the status of the District, but also an interactive forum for the public to ask questions and raise concerns for the school board to address. Many concerns and issues were tackled during the meeting including items such as money being spent on the appearance of buildings rather than curriculum, having an open line of credit and staff turnover rates.
“The school board welcomed the community’s comments and believes the meeting was informative to not only the public, but to the board as well,” Morrill school board president Jim Hessler said. “The board is focused on improving the district by completing previous goals and working towards achieving the new goals set forth.”
Funding was forefront with the District’s presentation, with the General Fund having a property tax levy lid of $1.05/$100 of property valuation. This general fund is for the general operations of the school, including payroll, supplies, and utilities. There is also a Building Fund that comes out of the $1.05 that is currently being used to fund the Early Education Building. To address energy efficiency, air quality, hazardous material removal (asbestos/mold), etc., there is a Qualified Capitol Purpose Undertaking Fund (QCUPF) that also comes out of the $1.05. The board did maintain that there has been an increase over the last 5 years with the cash position, most of this due to property tax increases. It was further explained that decreasing the tax levy is not an easy task. This is because for every $1 property tax increase due to valuation increase, the state aid is decreased by $1.12.
One of the big concerns was the District’s line of credit and debt status. According to the board, the state will allow a line of credit up to 75 percent of unencumbered tax dollars to be taken out and that the District has intermittently used a line of credit since 2010. The purpose of this line of credit is to supplement funds when there is a delay in receiving property tax dollars. Typically, the line of credit is used in April and May with payback in June or July. Currently, the Morrill School District has no short-term debt (debt with less than 1-year payback). While the books do show an intermediate debt (debt with a 1-5-year payback), the bulk of this debt will be paid off in 2018 and the remaining balance in 2019. These monies were used for supplies such as providing iPads to elementary students and Chromebooks to high school students, part of the 1 to 1 initiative. This initiative was the start of developing staff with technology integration in the classroom to qualify for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB) that have been used in areas such a renovating the high school and fitting it with new windows, doors, and an HVAC system. This is all to become more energy efficient, decrease the amount of heat days taken, and help to facilitate a positive learning environment. The QZABs fall into the Districts long-term debt (5+ year payback) with a projected plan to be paid off in 2024 and 2030. The Early Education Building is also in the long-term plans with yearly payments until 2023-2024, ending with a balloon payment that could possibly be refinanced for 2-3 years.
While finances were a big focus during the meeting, staffing was also a large community concern, especially recent high staff turnover rates. Between 2015 and 2017 there have been 18 certified staff members and 28 classified staff members leave the District for various reasons including retirement, new jobs, and termination. However, the board maintained that these numbers are consistent with other districts in the Panhandle. It was noted that most districts preferred to stay anonymous. Even with the turnover rates, Morrill School Districts staff index shows a highly educated and experienced staff. The staff index is a formula that considers experience and education of certified staff members. The Morrill Districts current staff index is 50.095 with the average of similar Panhandle schools being 49.45.
The board has been working on many goals to improve the Morrill School District. Several accomplished goals that were noted included the 1 to 1 technology for students, increased security/building improvements, targeted professional development for staff, increased enrollment, and minimizing opt-out students. Several in-progress goals include ACT prep for high school students, positive staff relations, and increasing cash reserves. A few new goals centered on curriculum with an ACT curriculum for the high school and improved curriculum, especially math, for the elementary school. The board also set a goal for additional communication with the public.
While there are certainly many issues and concerns to be addressed, the school board seems confident that progress is being made.
The public was listened to during the meeting and questions answered as thoroughly as possible.
Many speakers were allowed multiple chances to speak and extra time allotted to make sure that all concerns were addressed.
The board also planned for personal follow-up to questions and concerns that could not yet be answered at the meeting.
“We as a board appreciate and share the public’s passion for quality education in our community,” Hessler said.
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