USD 383 planning to contest $128K heating bill from February

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Among the many topics discussed during Wednesday’s USD 383 Manhattan/Ogden school board meeting, Superintendent Marvin Wade called to attention the district’s outstanding gas bill procured during February’s Polar Vortex.

Treasurer Lew Faust explained that through their provider, Symmetry Energy Solutions, their January bill amounted to ~$22,000, a normal rate expected for that time of year, and during the polar vortex saw an increase in usage of about 51%, and a bill totaling $128,363.

“Something seems a little out of whack there, if it would have been 35,000 or 40,000, that would have seemed to been in line but it was that $128,000, which represents 91.5% of our entire budget for that line item,” Faust said.  “For the year, we spent $87,500 all of last year for gas, so that was a shocker to say the least. I’ve been advised to not pay the bill until some investigation and work and hopefully negotiation goes on. We’ve got a zoom meeting at 11 a.m. on Friday, where there’s going to be far more information about what steps that we’ll be taking. We also have been assured that while this process is ongoing, it could take 60 to 90 days, they will take steps to make sure there’s no interruption of service.”

During these discussions, Faust raised the matter of House Bill 2119, and Senate Bill 175 with their proposed 2% cut across the board for all approved allocated funding for the next fiscal year, that would represent a $850,000 loss. Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid highlights that if these pass, the district may find itself back in court with lawsuits once again and lose precious time.

“We lose time when we’re in limbo for $850,000, especially when we’re trying to open up a new building and staff with additional people, this is not a good time to be in limbo. With $850,000 potentially hanging out there, that I think the court would restore, the question is when? And how far can we overextend without knowing for sure where we’re at and trying to be fiscally responsible at the same time,” Reid said. “So unfortunately, we have a lot of experience doing it this way. It’s just not an easy task to do when we’re not sure what we’re looking at, because we’re not our legislators.”

Board Member Curt Herrman raised the point that after already losing funding this year, where was the money going to come from to pay for this.

“I mean, the gas bill, is probably gonna come out of contingency [funds]would be my guess. But we’ve had in the past tough discussions about, if this happens, then we may have to start trimming back on some expenses,” Herrman said. “I think it’s worth having a conversation ahead of time, then rather, at the very end, like, “oh, heck, where are we gonna come up with his money?”, and then start talking about it. I just think we need to think about that, because we may be losing a lot of money this year.”

Equally important were the capital overlay summer projects which Director of Maintenance and Facilities Matt Davis laid out for the board.

In total the district is set to: Dispose of Amanda Arnold’s playground equipment turf; Susan B. Anthony will receive a total roof replacement, flooring replacement, and new bleachers for their football field; Bishop Stadium will receive a annual synthetic turf inspection and grooming; Eisenhower will receive football bleacher additions, gym resurfacing, goalpost replacement, underground sprinkler replacement, and football field reseeding; Frank Bergman will receive a HVAC replacement, fire sprinkler addition, and acoustical ceiling tile
replacement; Lee will have Masonry repair work above cafeteria; Manhattan High School West Campus will replace last white plastic roof above hallways and classrooms, C-Hall Masonry repairs – pending roof replacement schedule, roof replacement over B-Hall and C-Hall, and resurface north gym floor; Northview will have parking lot repairs to the lot west of the school; Oliver Brown will have a equipment shed built; Woodrow Wilson  will have a roof replacement on the east side over their kindergarten music classrooms; and all schools will have ADA/Code sidewalk repairs, and general parking lot maintenance and repairs.

Following the 2018 transferring of GED and associated adult learning courses to Manhattan Area Technical College, the facility has seen an increase of 24.9% from 269 to 336 students enrolled, and the very same students are seeing opportunities beyond just a GED. Director of Title III & Adult Education Chris Boxberger says there may be a student walking around, going to have their welding or associate’s degree by the end of the semester, and highlights he wants “to be that person”, and seen an overall increase in their high school diploma completion rate.

“So by taking four GED exams, you earn, obviously your GED, but you also earn the Kansas State High School Diploma from the Kansas Board of Regents. Since being at MATC, we’ve had 72 students graduate from our program, and that just feels so good to say that because there’s so many students that will come in, and they’re not sure they can do this, and then I can say, “Hey, we have 72 students just like you come into our program and come out,” Boxberger said. “Another important note that I want to bring to the board’s attention is of those 72 students, 41 of those students, at the time of enrollment in our program, would have been in the cohort of MHS students. Like I said earlier, aside from getting their GED, we also focus on students trying to understand what they want to do afterwards. We don’t want to just get them into the doors and send them on their way, we want to talk about, “Do you want to enter the workforce? Do you want to go into a post secondary education, K-state, Nebraska, MATC, anywhere? We will help you do it.”

Boxberger relays that in 2014, the GED was revised, on to a completely digital format, and required the testing center to expand and grow.

“We had a small 10 by 30 foot room that we had crammed 15 computers in and students could come in and test. As that became more popular, we opened it up to the general public and we signed a contract with ETS, so that we can offer the Praxis series for our teachers in the district. Due to the resources and just the phenomenal staff, they were able to expand greatly,” Boxberger said. “At the previous center, we only had nine sponsors and we were only able to offer about 145 exams. Since then we can now have 66 sponsors and offer 1,441 exams. So you’re talking to increase of almost 700% and we have two testing rooms.”

With May fast approaching, final plans have been laid out for the graduation ceremony of Manhattan High School’s seniors on Friday, May 14th at 7:30 p.m. Principal Michael Dorst says a lot will have to be managed as the Thursday prior to graduation, graduates will be practicing commencement at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and then on the following day at the same time, Big 12 Track & Field will hold events adjacent to the stadium.

“So we have some competing thing rolling around, as we’re hoping the parking lots a little bit more open. A couple things to note, the graduates are going to park in the east parking lot, the Board of Education can park in the Vanier parking lot, Gate X is the gate entrance that goes down to the field right underneath the band section. That’s where the graduates are going to walk down and go through, and that’s where we will stage before we go on,” Dorst said. “We’ll also be monitoring that graduates only go down to the field and then of course, the platform where somebody there will help you pin on the flowers. The stage is going to be covered, but K-state only allows six people to be on the stage minus a speaker.”

Dorst mentioned each graduate gets six tickets, and if more become available, they will develop a system to allow those out, as MHS is encouraging family to share if they’re not going to use all six tickets. During the procession, three grad images will be taken when graduates receive their diploma, and will not be able to walk in to pomp and circumstance.

“They’re going to come in, they’re going to sit down in order, the last five minutes we will prompt a pomp and circumstance to be played, then we’re going to have a video being played for the prior hour going on before that, but will enter into the onto the field and onto the stage and just adjacent to it five minutes before and reminding everybody to take their seats that the sermon was about start,” Dorst said. “That is the order of the ceremony that that will take place. So we’re going to go off with a handing off of the diploma, and not shaking hands. It makes for a better moment for that kid getting [their diploma], and will have the expectation to be masked. If you’re not if you’re not masked, I think you’re gonna stick out since there’s gonna be a lot of people reminding you about mask masking, and hand sanitizer will be accessible.”

Dorst clarified that they have plans in place for any weather eventuality.

“If there’s a lightning strike, if it’s a rain, the stage is covered, and we will we will proceed. If it’s a downpour, or there’s a moment that a light rain will turn into that, we’re off the field because in the last ceremony, we’ll be able to push pause and wait it out for a certain amount of time, but we’ll work with K-state,” Dorst said. “We’re gonna evaluate that if it’s completely canceled, [discussed earlier]during a team meeting, we have contingency plans to move it. It won’t be the six tickets, but we have a commitment to our graduates to do a lesser amount of tickets and move it to Bishop Stadium. It would take a massive amount of moving and be a very difficult time, but I think we’ll rally our manpower to get enough chairs on the field for our graduates do a two ticket event. I know that would be tough, but what would be even tougher is not doing a graduation ceremony.”

In other business Wednesday, board members voted 7-0 for final approval authorizing purchases for bond projects. Those items considered were:

Final approval to move forward with the change orders at MHSW campus additions in the amount of $48,903 from McCown Gordon Construction and increasing the guaranteed maximum price to $27,458,964
Final approval to move forward with the amended GMP for Change Order #002 for Frank Bergman Elementary Phase 2/B with BHS Construction in the amount of $24,862
Final approval for the purchase of an audio-visual system for College Hill Early Learning Center, including the necessary electrical work needed to complete the project in the amount of $38,197
Final approval for the purchase of an additional copy of each of the three sets of Connect 4 Learning picture books for each early learning classroom in the amount of $24,999
Final approval for the purchase of a new collection of books for Eugene Field Early Learning Center and Spanish titles for both early learning facilities in the amount of $39,507
Final approval for the Manny Scott professional learning contract for November 19, 2021 in the amount of $20,000
Final approval l for the purchase of Heggerty Learning resources in the total amount not to exceed of $22,127 for early literacy resources

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