Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer
The board invited local legislators to attend the meeting and discuss concerns. Legislators attending included Representatives Sydney Carlin, Ron Highland, Tom Phillips, and Susie Swanson, and Senator Tom Hawk. Board members shared their concerns about block grant funding, the lack of respect the Legislature has for school board members and educators across the state, and the impact the reduction in state funding has had on USD 383, in terms of the specific budget items cut and the considerable time dedicated to developing the cuts.
Aaron Estabrook commented that it was a distraction from the district’s primary job of educating students to be asked to provide information to legislators about how funds are spent and to respond with the information in a matter of hours. Mr. Estabrook said the district will provide any information that’s asked for, but the Legislature made the decision to use block grant funding before having the information. He wondered how the state had come to the point where a district receives new students, but receives no additional funding from the state to educate the students (USD 383 received 126 new students and received no additional funding). Rep. Highland said that legislators asked districts for information because they have to ensure that funding is being spent appropriately, and he provided the example of one school district that had diverted its at-risk funds to another purpose. Dave Colburn commented that spending time trying to find the one school district that diverted funds in an effort to discredit all districts is shameful and cowardly. Sen. Hawk said that because some bad tax decisions were made and resulted in reduced revenue, the Legislature will be “picking at all kinds of things” and saying they aren’t working right when maybe the problem is the infrastructure of government isn’t being funded right, and the focus is on the wrong thing.
Rep. Swanson commented that many legislators did not support the block grant funding, but there were not enough who were against it. She said that only three people testified in support of the block grant funding, there were numerous educators who testified against it, and she found it puzzling that 64 legislators supported it with only three testimonials in favor of it. Rep. Phillips said he wanted to go on record as not supporting the block grant funding. Rep. Highland was the only legislator who said he had supported the block grant funding, and he said he had supported it because the testimonials had convinced him that the old finance formula was being abused. Rep. Highland said he thought the whole purpose of the block grant funding was to take a “time out” in order to look at what the state has been doing to determine if it’s been justified. He added that the Legislature has to look at everything that affects a child, and Mr. Colburn said that 2,000 school board members across the state have already been elected to do that job and are the ones who should do this.
Other discussion included concerns about making merit pay for teachers part of a new finance formula, the amount of federal impact aid districts are allowed to keep, a proposed new auditing system that would be costly to districts, and allowing homeschooled students to participate in school district activities without being able to determine if the homeschooled students are academically eligible.
The board received a report on bullying prevention, and approved 7-0 the district’s financial audit report.