By ROBERT PIERCE • Daily Leader
On Aug. 27, the USD 480 Board of Education voted to take a resolution to increase the district’s capital outlay mill levy from 3 mills to 4 to a vote of the people. This move was in response to a petition asking for the vote that had been certified a day earlier by the Seward County Clerk’s office.
The special election will take place Oct. 13, and district officials believe information has been floating around amongst Liberal residents that simply is not true.
Superintendent Vernon Welch, assistant superintendent Lance Stout and business and finance director Jerry Clay met with the media Friday morning to clear up some of the rumors about the capital outlay budget, as well as the recent completion of Redskin Field.
Welch said he believes it is the district’s responsibility to tell the facts and the public’s responsibility to make a decision based on those facts.
“I don’t think some people believe what they’re told,” he said.
Clay said the first question in the rumor mill addresses the spending of $2.4 million in renovations to the school’s football field. He said the funding did not come from the capital outlay budget.
“The project did cost $2.4 million,” he said. “However, it’s on a capital lease payment over eight years. We will pay it off in a time frame of eight years. This year, out of our current year budget, we’ll spend $191,605. Then it will go to $383,210 every year, and in the final year, we’ll have another $191,605.”
The payments of $383,210 will be made in two equal payments of $191,605, one in January and one in July, each year, according to Clay.
Clay said last year’s capital outlay mill levy was set at 3 mills, and he compared the proposed 4 mills to districts of similar size to Liberal.
“Garden City, Dodge City and Hutch, which are all districts we compare to, were also at 4 mills last year,” he said. “Hays was at 8 mills last year, so us being at 3 and then going to 4 is not out of the ordinary.”
The district also received state aid on top of last year’s 3 mills, which Clay said was taken out of the state’s budget this year.
“We lose $217,544 this year because of that capital outlay state aid,” he said. “The increase of 1 mill was trying to offset part of that loss. We’re just trying to maintain where we were at last year.”
Clay then explained what capital outlay is used for, saying initially he believes this is where the biggest misunderstanding is.
“We normally – on just annual items we do every single year – we do roof repairs, we do carpet replacement, air conditioning and heating repairs,” he said. “We resurface the gym floors each year. We do painting. We have lawn care we have to do. Bus repairs, windows and doors, fire alarms and maintenance.”
Clay said the price tag on annual maintenance in the district totals nearly $200,000. He then addressed the capital outlay budget for each school building in the district.
“The principals can’t go over to their teachers and say, ‘What do you need in your classrooms?’” he said.
Clay said those items would include new desks, chairs, marker boards, projectors and computers.
“Those are things that the building needs to instruct their kids,” he said. “They have a budget. We normally try to replace a bus every single year just because of the rotation cycle. We try to replace computers.”
Clay said USD 480 has more than 2,000 computers, all of which cannot be replaced in a given year.
“They’re on a rotation cycle of about every six years,” he said.
Clay said other capital outlay budget items include the band’s budget to replace and repair instruments, as well as another $500,000 for annual purchases.
“Just from annual maintenance and annual purchases to keep our district going, we spend $1.1 million in capital outlay,” he said.
“Then we use capital outlay for bigger projects.”
Those bigger projects have included over the last three years about
$2.6 million in renovations and expansions to Lincoln, McDermott and Southlawn elementaries and Liberal High School, according to Clay.
“The capital outlay that you have is affecting all the students throughout the district in some way or another of giving them better classrooms,” he said.
Clay said the board of education and administration of USD 480 feel the district’s budget has been managed wisely.
“Taxes-wise, every single school district has four (funds) that you do. “General fund, the entire state, you do 20 mills. That’s state set. Then you have your capital outlay budget.”
Clay emphasized most districts of Liberal’s size are using a 4-mill capital outlay levy, something which Liberal is just now reaching.
The next portion of the budget is bond interest, which Clay said is paying for projects the public has voted on.
“Those are different from district to district,” he said.
The last part of the district’s budget is the local option budget.
“That is money that you can raise beyond your general fund,” he said.
“USD 480 has the authority to go to 28.4 percent. Last year, we were only at 16.9 percent. This year, we’re at 17.1 percent. The school district has not gone to the maximum because that does come from local taxpayers.”
Clay said many districts, such as Hutchinson, Dodge City, Great Bend and Hays, have either equaled or neared the percentage they are authorized to use for their LOBs.
“We get our authority at USD 480 by comparing us to what the other school districts our size do,” he said. “The state is saying the average 5A school district is at 28.4 (mills). You have the authority to go there. Our board and our administration has felt we want to keep it as low as we can, but make sure we have instructional capability in our school.”
Stout said district residents can call or visit administration and board members if they are unclear about information.
“We can meet with them in this type of format,” he said. “It’s certainly important to us that we’re on the same page.”
Welch also cleared up any information about the intent of administrators and board members.
“Our jobs are kids, period,” he said. “I don’t like people saying that it’s not, that we’re looking at other things. That’s why we’re in this profession. We’re in here to work with kids, provide facilities for them, activities for them and an education for them and try to use the district’s money to do that.”
Welch said administrators create a budget with the board of education and have a budget meeting every year.
“People can come in and say, ‘We don’t like it or we like it’ and express their opinion,” he said. “We set the budget according to what we think we can get done for each fiscal year to best address the kids’ needs. We want to put those kids in an environment that’s inclusive to learning so they can make the test scores.”