By JESSICA CRAWFORD • Daily Leader
Monday evening, USD No. 480 met to address the public in a forum at the Rock Island Depot, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. In an effort to inform the voting public of the need for a capital outlay fund, President Dan Diepenbrock presented those in attendance, viewers of the live broadcast and radio listeners with an explanation and history of board responsibility with such funds. However, the board of education was met with some resistance.
According to Diepenbrock, the resolution presented to the voters on Oct. 13 would only allow the board the authority to raise the mill levy to 8 mills. Currently, the board has approved a 4 mill rate. The
8 mills is only a cap that is mandated by the State of Kansas, Diepenbrock said.
“If this fails, we will start next year with about $140,000 in capital outlay funds,” he said. “Are these prudent expenditures? It is not like we are deviating from our past practices. For a $100,000 home, the property taxes will equal $46.”
Concerned citizen and local businessman Steve Helm confronted Diepenbrock and board members with expenditures detected on USD 480 credit cards. Helm claims $26,000 was paid out in hotel bills in a one-month period alone. $15,288 was paid to the Hilton in Dallas – a luxury hotel, Helm said.
He also claimed $2,500 was spent under the description of meals and entertainment, $350 of those funds were spent at a restaurant and bar with a jousting show.
“And this does not include travel or registration fees for the conferences the district is attending,” Helm said. “We have been everywhere, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, San Antonio and Denver. There are expenditures at a Harley Davidson store and Mall of America. What would the district need to charge at a Harley Davidson store?”
Helm also expressed concern over a charge of approximately $180 for two teachers to eat at a fine steak house in San Antonio. However, according to Diepenbrock and finance director Jerry Clay, when that was discovered, the teachers were questioned as to the charges and required to reimburse the district for a percentage of the meal.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Helm said. “There are pages and pages of examples. I don’t know how you can ask for additional money. Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves.”
Diepenbrock responded with the assumption that no one enjoys travelling on business. He said that in an effort to keep teachers enthusiastic about the conference to be attended, it was necessary to board them in the hotel in Dallas where the conference would be taking place.
“Travelling is not a picnic for me or most people,” Diepenbrock said.
“If the conference is at the Marriot, how do we ask them to stay at the Super 8 across town? We want them to be enthusiastic. We think, though, that maybe a per diem might be a good idea.”
According to board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott, money was saved attending a conference in Dallas.
“AVID originally wanted us to fly to Chicago,” Sutherland-Abbott said. “We asked if we could go to Dallas instead, and we took four Suburbans and drove. That saved $10,000.”
Steve Rice of Hay, Rice and Associates expressed his appreciation of the board for the way they handle expenses as he said the bottom line was that the capital outlay funds, which $2.8 million of those funds were carried over from last year, are for the students of USD 480.
“I applaud the school board for a $2.8 million carry over,” Rice said. “Brick and mortar and equipment, this money is for the kids. If we are going to hold them accountable,” he continued, “We have to give them the necessary resources to do their job. I am proud of what you have done. If you vote ‘no,’ that is a vote against our children.”
Board members Reid Petty and Cheryl Louderback were then asked if they supported the passage of the capital outlay resolution, due to their fiscal concerns expressed in recent board meetings. As a result of Louderback’s absence, Petty took the floor.
“I do,” he said of his support of the resolution. “I didn’t want the mill levy to go from three to four, but there is a difference from three to four and four to zero.”
Board members were then asked if they believed it was a mistake to add the Redskin Field renovations into the bond issue that failed this past April. All board members, for the most part, felt it was a mistake to add it to the bond issue however, they were taking into consideration that the district would have received 37 percent of state aid with the entire project had the bond issue passed.
“For some kids, it’s those activities that keep them in school,”
board member Stacy Johnson said of the much needed Burial Ground renovations. “It might get them graduated. I was one of those kids. I kept my grades right where they had to be so I could play football and basketball.”
Although many questions and concerns were raised throughout the forum Monday evening, board member Reid Petty tried to remind everyone in attendance, listening or watching what the forum was actually about – the capital outlay resolution and the capital outlay resolution alone. He also reminded the public that due to upcoming elections, it would not be wise for the board to raise the mill rate any higher than it already is.
“This is about whether the capital outlay is 4 mills or zero,” Petty said. “That arguably should be a concern for the community.
“If it would pass, it would stay at 4 mills, no matter what,” Petty continued. “Four board members are up for re-election in two years.
Why would they raise it during an election year? That would not be a good idea on their part.”
Community member Susan Lukwago said that although she felt the board has been somewhat unclear throughout the process of informing the public as to what is actually going on, ultimately, it is about education.
“It is education,” Lukwago said. “Somebody paid for it for me.
Somebody paid for it for all of us. I am in support of this.”
Board members encouraged the public to continue to ask questions if they have concerns or do not understand the capital outlay resolution. The special election will take place Tuesday, Oct. 13.