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Audit: USD 457 continues to have one of lowest tax burdens in state

12/4/2012

Board recognizes award-winning schools in district.

Board recognizes award-winning schools in district.

BY RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Despite the uncertain economic climate the past few years, USD 457 continues to have one of the lowest local tax burdens in the state.

That's according to several audits done by Lewis Hooper & Dick, a local firm in Garden City.

Gary Schlappe, a certified public accountant, delivered a district audit Monday night at a regulary-scheduled USD 457 Board of Education meeting.

Schlappe compared the district's supplemental general fund, or local option budget, to other districts in the state of similar size.

The mill levy is second from the lowest, at 49.19 mills, as compared to schools in Sedgwick, Butler, Auburn Washburn, Dodge City, Manhattan, Derby, De Soto, Maize, Salina, Geary County, Lawrence and Topeka public schools.

De Soto is the highest and Geary County is the lowest, Schlappe said.

Garden City's local option budget is 21.9 percent of the general fund, which also is the second lowest in the state behind Geary County.

Schlappe did say the local option budget in the general fund did rise from 2011 to 2012, from 19.8 percent to 21.9 percent, but that the district has maintained the same position as compared to other similar districts.

Schlappe said some districts are approaching the state maximum of 30 percent. He said the tax burden of the district on a $100,000 home is $521. Garden City has the second lowest rate compared to similar schools. De Soto is the highest at $933, and Geary County is the lowest at $477 paid on a $100,000 home.

"This type of study helps you understand where you stand in that area," Schlappe said.

Board president Jean Clifford and Gloria Hopkins said the study may help the public understand that the local tax burden is lower for Garden City schools than other comparable schools around the state.

"It does show the community gets good value for their contribution. We do a good job in our community for what we spend and what we contribute to educating our students," Clifford said.

Theresa Dasenbrock, of Lewis Hooper & Dick, said after the audit that the company found minimal, "insignificant" errors against the school district when it comes to finances.

Schlappe said that when it comes to facing the current budget climate, there's both good and bad news for the district.

"The bad news is that they'll continue to put a stress on the USDs. The good news is that 457 ranks well among its peers," he said.

Schlappe said USD 457 has learned to do more with less. The district had to cut 38 positions in the 2010-11 school year, and had to cut 13 in the 2011-12 school year, Schlappe said.

"That has allowed more funds to be available to provide salary increases to the staff that remain," he said.

"There are some rocky times ahead of us, I'm sure. I think a lot of dealing with those challenges is understanding where we've been," he said.

In other business Monday night, the board recognized Buffalo Jones Elementary School, Plymell Elementary School and Garden City High School for receiving Standard of Excellence awards on state assessments.

Darren Dennis, assistant superintendent for learning services, said the formula for receiving the award is to have a certain percent of students score at exemplary and a small percentage score in the academic warning year.

"This year, we have 50 awards to present a total of 14 schools," Dennis said.

Last year, 44 awards were given to 11 schools, he said.

Principals and teachers from the three schools were present to receive the awards. The teachers also introduced themselves and said how many years they have been teaching with the district.

The board also recognized GCHS as a Blue Ribbon High School.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools award honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' levels of achievement.

GCHS was among six Kansas schools and 269 schools nationwide to receive the award.

GCHS, along with Marshall Elementary School in Eureka, were honored in the Exemplary Improving Schools category.

The category recognizes schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and which demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by state assessments or nationally-normed tests.

The other four Kansas schools were recognized as Exemplary High Performing Schools, in which schools are recognized among their state's highest performing schools, which are measured by state assessments or nationally-normed tests.

The other schools include: Basehor Linwood High School in Basehor, Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Goddard High School in Goddard and St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.

Mireles was one of seven principals in the nation and the only high school principal to receive the award. It was presented Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The Terrel H. Bell Award, named for the former U.S. secretary of education, recognizes outstanding school leaders and the vital role they play in overcoming challenging circumstances. Principals nominated for this award are school leaders committed to fostering successful teaching and learning at their schools. They are principals who do whatever it takes to help their students meet high standards and are committed to the notion that in educating America's children, failure isn't an option, according to the National Blue Ribbon Schools website.

Mireles traveled to Washington D.C., along with Rebecca Bird, GCHS math coach, to receive the award. Mireles contributed receiving his award to the people he works with.

Clifford said that is a trait of the district: Everyone shares responsibility and exemplifies leadership.

"I think that's one of our secrets to success, and hopefully we'll continue that," she said.

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