Despite rumors, private sale of property near school does not involve USD 247 Southeast

A screen capture of the Facebook post addressed in the news release below.

A screen capture of the Facebook post addressed in the news release below.

Just days before a Special Election, “breaking news” announced Sunday evening caught USD 247 Southeast officials by surprise. A group fighting against a proposed Capital Outlay tax posted on their Facebook page that “a private sale contract is pending for lots/ground adjacent to the school in Cherokee”. The post implies the district is purchasing the property and that is why the resolution voters will decide on Tuesday says land can be purchased.
USD 247 Southeast Public Information Officer Chris Wilson says the language of the resolution is from the state and must list everything the property could potentially be used for, even if the district has no plans for many of those listed items.
“A private sale may be pending, but it does not involve us – our district has no plans to build a new building, let alone purchase more property,” says Wilson. “According to our superintendent, board clerk and board president there has never been a conversation or consideration by the board or administration to look for additional property, build a school or pass a bond. Our enrollment is going to drop each year for the next four or five years until we level off – why would we want to add onto what we already have? We’re still trying to find ways to maintain what we have now.”
The property in question is on the northeast corner lot at Vine and Magnolia, across Cherokee’s main street from the Southeast Junior High School. The realtor for the property, Davis Real Estate in Columbus, confirmed Monday morning with Wilson that there have been a few offers on the property, but none approved. They say none of the offers have come from the school district.
The accusation that USD 247 Southeast is purchasing property to build a new school building is just one of the many questions Wilson has been asked about in recent weeks.
“Some of the questions have been really good – why does the board want this funding? What will it pay for? Why is it going to a vote now? Other questions have been less so. Some of the rumors going around border on slander – even libel since they’re being published online.”
Wilson says the State of Kansas recently made a change in the law and now allows school districts to collect up to 8 mils specifically for capital expenses, such as maintaining facilities, and the purchase and maintenance of items like buses and computers. The USD 247 Southeast Board of Education approved a resolution to collect the funds, but a petition was filed to send it to a public vote.
“This is not $8 million – it’s 8 mils – mils is just what the rate is called,” Wilson explains. “And the language says ‘up to’ 8 mils. Historically, our board members have chosen only to collect Capital Outlay when it was necessary – they are taxpayers too. Unfortunately, right now, it is necessary. We have been losing more than $200,000 each year as our enrollment declines, and we expect that to continue for the next few years. We must maintain our buildings regardless of the number of students we have. The capital funds are for repairs and other upkeep without taking dollars away from the students who still choose Southeast. It would also allow our district to set aside some funds each year for long term projects that come up – something we simply don’t have the money to do now. This isn’t a new tax – our district has collected it before but it was allowed to lapse.”
Another question Wilson frequently gets is how the board can collect 8 mils for Capital Outlay, but the total rate for the district is going down.
“The State of Kansas decided to pour more aid into the Supplemental Fund – which means less has to be collected locally,” Wilson says. “Even with the maximum of 8 mils for Capital Outlay, if you have a home assessed at $70,000 you’re still talking about a savings of more than $50 compared to last year.”
On Monday morning the Cherokee County Clerk’s Office confirmed residents can determine how much they will be paying towards the Capital Outlay: Take the Assessed Value of your residence, multiply it by 0.115, multiply that by 8, then divide by 1,000. Using the same formula, residents can determine how much they will save compare to last year – just replace the 8 with 7.061 – how many mils the total rate is dropping even with the Capital Outlay.
Wilson says another question he repeatedly gets is about the savings from closing the McCune grade school.
“What some people will not accept is that the McCune building had been losing money for years due to declining enrollment,” Wilson says. “For several years the number of students at the McCune grade school did not offset the cost of operating and maintaining the building. For a while the other buildings didn’t have the space to handle the students, but eventually enrollment declined to the point that they could. But the board members chose to keep the building open despite the financial cost.”
Wilson says board members knew the 2014-2015 school year was going to be a “tipping point”.
“We graduated 63 and entered a kindergarten class of 33 students – that’s following a pattern we’ve been seeing,” says Wilson. “Eventually, around 2020, all of our grades Kindergarten through 12th grade, will be in the 30’s – a large 2A school or small 3A school. This year we have 592 students, down from 621, but that loss of 29 is still half of what we expected. We thought we’d lose more because of the McCune closure. But our school board members saw that the financial hit is there and will continue. We lost $250,000 in annual funding last year, another $200,000 this year, and that is going to continue until our enrollment levels off. So in another 5 years, you’re talking $1 million. That’s not just a one year loss – that’s every year until our enrollment finally levels off. Plus, in the past two years we’ve seen healthcare increases because of the Affordable Care Act increases, increases for our share of Special Education, and these are just a few of the expenses that have increased. And there are always unexpected costs.”
Included in the category of unexpected costs is an estimated $150,000 in required remodeling to make the districts buildings handicap accessible.
“We weren’t up to code,” Wilson explains. “The 1993, 1997 and 2003 buildings were not built to compliance with the American Disabilities Act. We thought we were up to code until this past summer when a complaint was filed. We are paying for projects today that should have been taken care of 10, 20 years ago. If the McCune building was still open, it would have cost even more. But these are improvements that should be done. Everyone deserves access legally, and it’s the right thing to do.”
The district also increased payroll by more than $160,000. Wilson says the district had frozen pay and initiated some pay cuts, and after a couple of years the board knew they had to provide an increase to continue to be able to recruit new teachers and keep current ones.
“The state has made formula changes in how they fund students, more changes are expected – and facilities have to be maintained regardless of the number of students there are anyway. Plus, in the state of Kansas, families can transfer their students to other districts and state funding follows them to their new district. So like every other Kansas school district we are constantly working to improve the quality of education our schools provide – and the expenses to do so continue to increase.”
State legislatures are threatening to cut At Risk funding. Wilson says if districts get students classified as At Risk to perform better academically the state would actually reduce funding for those students.
“We could lose at least $200,000 per year for doing our job,” says Wilson. “We’re not the only school district keeping an eye on this potential change. A lot of school districts statewide are keeping an eye on this and we all have to plan accordingly.”
Wilson says the closing of the McCune School was delayed as long as possible in the hope that families would return and the State of Kansas would provide more funding.
“But that didn’t happen. It was not a decision that was taken lightly. It was not done out of spite. It was not done by choice. The district could no longer afford to keep it open.”
Wilson says it’s true that USD 247 Southeast is the only district in Crawford County seeking the maximum of 8 mils for Capital Outlay, but he says that information alone taken out of context doesn’t explain the whole story.
“Even with this 8 mils, USD 247 Southeast has the lowest total rate for of all Crawford County school districts,” he says. “Plus, everyone in Labette County would still have a higher rate than us, including Oswego, the district Save McCune organizers want to be a part of. Oswego is collecting 8 mils for Capital Outlay and they have a School Bond. In fact, only two districts would have a lower rate than us in Cherokee County – Riverton would be one mill lower than us and Columbus is pushing for a School Bond, which would make them higher than USD 247 Southeast. USD 247 Southeast is not the only school district who wants to collect Capital Outlay to free up funds for our students – we’re the only one who is having to fight for it.”
Another question Wilson has received is if the rate increases 8 mils, each year.
“The State of Kansas says 8 mils is the maximum that can be collected each year for Capital Outlay – that’s it, no more,” says Wilson. “It does not go from 8 to 16 to 24 and so on. That decision is from the state itself – only 8 mils can be collected each year. Our board can choose to collect less, but not more than that. It provides the board flexibility.”
Wilson has also been asked about the district’s budget.
“Residents have been told our budget is around $10 million – we’ve actually requested just over $8.8 million and that’s misleading because that is a maximum projection,” Wilson says. “If a school district overestimates its costs they don’t get to spend any money that’s left because they don’t get it in the first place. Think of it this way – you have a job and you decide you’re going to work overtime the next few months to save up for Christmas. You do the math and figure up you can save an additional $1,000 – that’s your maximum projection. But what happens if your boss says no overtime? That $1,000 didn’t magically appear in your account. Like you, school districts can only spend what is actually earned. We budgeted as if we’ll have 614 students – but we only had 592 so that is what we will get funding for.”
“It’s easy to use creepy music and a scary voice to tell folks in 15 seconds that something is bad for them,” Wilson says. “But the reality is, just like every other school district, we have an obligation to taxpayers statewide to be as cost efficient as possible. We also have an obligation to the families who choose to send their children to our school district now and in the future. It is our responsibility to prepare them for their futures, whether they choose to go to college or go directly into the workforce.”
The USD 247 Special Election will be held on Tuesday October 7, 2014. It is open to registered voters within the USD 247 territory. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, including the location of your polling place, visit www.USD247.com.

6 Comments

  1. Vote No says:

    Vote No!! This is a PERMANENT TAX INCREASE. And yes USD 247 enrollment probably will go down but that is because of the BOE and Superintendent and how the have destroyed the district so far. They are saving 1 million dollars closing the McCune school according to the superintendent. So if they lost 200,000 this year what happened to the other 800,000. This district needs to get back to common sense spending.

  2. steve says:

    Looks like a good use of smoke and mirrors by 247 and the vote yessers to cloud the issue before voting day. Where is the refund we are owed from the money that was illegally collected??

  3. Vote no! says:

    That piece of information did not answer the big questions and side stepped a few of the answers. Vote NO!!!!!!!

  4. Kenny says:

    The money is much needed funding to provide the best education possible. The VOTE NO side is a very small group of people that are upset about the school in McCune closing. This false report on the property sale is just another in a list of efforts to degrade USD 247. Declining attendance is based on projections of graduating classes versus incoming classes. Do they really think people are so shallow that they would believe parents are planning 5 years in advance to move their kids? VOTE YES to show the hundreds of kids as well as teachers and staff that you care about the quality of education provided in your community.

  5. Vote No says:

    Well we would be the only ones that care about the staff. USD 247 does not care about it’s staff. Lets not forget some of the staff lost their jobs when McCune closed. I believe it should have been lowest seniority in the whole district who lost their jobs but thats just showing you that the BOE and superintendent don’t care how they get the result even if that means tossing some of their own to the side.

  6. Kenny says:

    I’m especially disturbed by the use of children in the Vote Yes campaign. Are we supposed to feel sorry for these kids? Aren’t they receiving a perfectly fine education right now, without extra tax dollars? Very poor tactics that hopefully the educated voters have seen through.

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