School looking at 7% budget cut
After finally receiving word on the School Finance Act, preliminary budget figures for Holyoke School District Re-1J for 2020-21 were discussed last week at the June 16 Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Kyle Stumpf said the district is looking at about a 7% reduction in its budget, which means about $485,000.
Stumpf said he and Budget and Finance Director Ben Rahe had started to put things together for the preliminary budget after receiving funding details and would share info with the board in the following days.
Due to the delayed budget numbers from the state, the Legislature reduced the 30-day notice requirement for budget viewing by the public to two days. The budget is available for view June 23-25.
A budget hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, at 4:30 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 4:45 p.m. in the board meeting room.
Stumpf said he and Rahe tried to be really efficient as they went through the budget to come up with some recommendations for cuts.
He said they looked at everything — transportation, personnel districtwide, athletics, other programs, extra duties, software and licensing, professional development, extra pay and more. They tried to look at less-expensive or free alternatives for items, as well.
Stumpf said that a tobacco tax on vaping products passed the House, and if it moves forward, it could go to the voters in November. If approved, the tax moneys would go to rural school districts, and Stumpf said it could represent close to $90 million in the next three years.
On another positive note, Stumpf said that right at $500,000 has been deposited in the school accounts from federal stimulus funds ($430,000) and CARES Act funds ($70,000).
However, guidelines are not clear on what the money can be used for, Stumpf pointed out. There are nine bullet points for guidelines, but they’re vague. Stumpf said those moneys will show in reserves in the budget. They want to make sure they follow guidelines for usage of the funds so they don’t end up having to pay them back.
Stumpf also reported that the details with the investment grade audit with Schneider Electric have been pushed back a bit due to COVID-19. Will Benish with Schneider Electric will give a presentation on funding and financing at the June 25 special meeting.
School profile this fall still in consideration stages
Noting that a lot could happen by way of directives in the next several weeks, Stumpf said the administrative team has talked about how the start of the 2020-21 school year could look this fall.
He said there are basically four scenarios that could be considered.
For one, everyone could return to school as normal in August, with increased focus on such things as body temperatures and sick leave policies.
The second scenario would be an online-only return in the fall.
A rotation of half of the students at school at a time is another scenario.
And the final scenario looks at starting school as normal for a month, then if there’s a spike or increase of the coronavirus there could be a return to virtual learning for a time.
Stumpf said there are some guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education, and a toolkit is available to look through to see what might work for this district.
New insurance package includes captive layer program
After hearing details from Rahe on a captive layer program for health insurance, the school board approved a new insurance package called UMR Health from HUB International for the 2020-21 school year.
As part of that, they approved up to $23,000 for the captive layer collateral.
Rahe explained that the district has currently been on a straight-funded type of medical plan with Anthem. He said he calls HUB’s captive layer program a combination of a self-funded and group plan. Holyoke will be in a group with several charter schools.
If the full insurance is not used in the new program, there’s the opportunity for getting some money back, both individually and groupwise.
Rahe said with the 6.6% increase that Anthem was proposing for 2020-21, costs were almost exactly the same for the UMR Health package maximum. But with the benefit of potentially receiving money back from UMR Health, the plan looked good.
Rahe also noted that they were able to completely refigure the insurance plan based on what the district wanted with regard to copays and deductibles.
Some plans were crafted that were way more beneficial to employees. As an example, Rahe noted they were able to craft plans that dropped deductibles from $6,700 to $3,000 and from $7,000 to $5,000. Benefits would especially be noted after two to three years.
In the self-fund portion of the program, benefits could be seen right away. Rahe said it could be up to 18 months to see benefits with the captive piece.
Asked about accessibility to care with the new program, Rahe assured the board that they will be in-network with United Medical within a 100- to 200-mile radius.
While Holyoke will start out in a captive group with some charter schools, Rahe said if there’s enough participation of districts in this area, they could form their own captive in future years.
Bus barn options addressed
Simply getting input to see if there’s interest in gathering details, Stumpf brought up the subject of potentially selling the current bus barn located at 125 N. Sunflower Dr. just east of town and returning the transportation headquarters to where they had been previously, on the southwest corner of the lot that includes the football field. The revenue could be used to pay down debt.
Some tear-down and building would be required at the former site on district grounds which would need to be figured into the decision, as well.
Stumpf pointed out that when the current bus barn was purchased, the transportation supervisor handled all CDE inspections, oil changes and maintenance that are now outsourced.
Getting someone to fill such a position again doesn’t look to be an option considering the newer emissions and electronic aspects requiring more software and upkeep for the electronic components.
Board member Dusty Sprague noted that the current site is premium commercial property that could be a long-term asset. He believes the property value will continue to go up. On the other hand, he sees the value of having the transportation department within the rest of the district campus. “It’s an intriguing idea but has to make financial sense,” Sprague added.
Stumpf and Rahe will explore some rough cost estimates for tearing down and rebuilding options at the former bus barn which includes the concessions stands at the football field.
Additionally, they will obtain details on how such a property sale would work with regard to a bidding process. With that information in hand, the board will look at whether this is an idea to pursue further.
Board discusses Gallagher Amendment repeal
A brief discussion was held at last week’s board meeting on whether the local board wants to approve a resolution in support of repealing the Gallagher Amendment for the purpose of increasing funding of public education in Colorado.
While he wasn’t present for last week’s board meeting, member Jon Kleve’s email on this topic was shared by board president Pat Wiebers.
He said he tends to support the repeal of this as it would be nice to be able to rebalance the property tax base. While this looks to be a good first step, he said they’re three steps away from seeing any benefit.
The board will decide whether it signs support of the repeal resolution at the June 25 meeting.
In other business at the June 16 meeting, the school board:
— Accepted the resignations of JR/SR high social studies teacher Nic Balog and second grade teacher Allie Balog.
— Learned that the $150,000 grant for the Home Grown Talent Initiative to be used over the next two years was approved. Stumpf and Angela Powell also made a recent presentation to the El Pomar Foundation, requesting $200,000 for the program.
— Voted to allocate $13,000 for kindergarten Chromebooks from state funding for full-day kindergarten.
— Opted to retain the current meal prices for 2020-21 at $2.45 for grades K-6 and $2.70 for grades 7-12.
— Engaged Lauer, Szabo & Associates to conduct the district’s 2019-20 audit.
— Gave first-reading approval to a graduation requirements policy that was presented May 19.
— Approved second reading of policies on concurrent enrollment and code of conduct that were originally presented May 5.
— Approved the sign-over of the Title III grant funds to Northeast BOCES, as well as assurances for submission of the consolidated grant funds.
— Held a one hour and 36 minute executive session at the close of the meeting for the informal superintendent evaluation.