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November 22, 2017

Lower Enrollment, but not that low


Before the Luther School Board meeting Monday night, Elementary Principal Sheila Wilson asked new High School Principal Jerry Martin how his first week went.

“It’s a good start!” he said. “They are a great bunch of kids.”

“Aren’t they?” said Mrs. Wilson. He went on to say the students were quiet and respectful and he was pleased.

Middle School Principal Barry Gunn wasn’t in on that conversation right then, he was probably catching some of the home middle school football game just outside of the boardroom. But he probably would have said something about having the best kids in his building, adding some sort of funny punchline.

It was a light start to the September meeting that rolled along pretty smoothly, although there were some serious moments.

Given that state auditors are in the midst of investigating the district, particularly use of a transportation bond issue and other spending, and enrollment is down and the funding from the state doesn’t look promising for another year – the administrators, superintendent and school board seemed to be glad to be back at it for another school year.

The new school auditor, (separate from the State Auditors) presented the Estimate of Needs which the board eventually approved on three yes votes. Charles DeFuria voted No and Steve Broudy was absent. Auditor Ralph Osborn, CPA, of Bristow, said the Estimate of Needs shouldn’t actually be used as the district’s budget, but to be the maximum spent. And a second budget should be used to forecast what really might happen, he said. The public was not given a copy of the Estimate of Needs but one will be published soon and we’ll watch for it.

DeFuria asked Osborn whether the board is liable for approving expenditures that might be illegal. Osborn said yes, and although it might not be intentional, board members who did so would be subject to repayment and possible Class D felony charges.

“You do like serving on the school board, don’t you?” Osborn joked to break the seriousness of the question.

Since the State Auditor’s Office just began its work, Osborn recommended the board await the final State Auditor’s report to work out lingering questions about bond spending.

By the way, State Auditor spokesman Trey Davis said the audits typically take six months.  “It depends on a number of factors including availability of records, quality of the records, cooperativeness of personnel, availability of individuals for interviews, and other things. The drafting process of the report can be lengthy as it undergoes multiple reviews to ensure anything in the report is fully supported,” said Davis.

As for enrollment, in his comments Superintendent Sheldon Buxton said numbers are down and some LPS students have transferred or enrolled Epic Charter School. When each building principal gave an enrollment report, the numbers weren’t as dire as suspected.

Wilson said in the elementary school, PreK – 4th grade, enrollment is at 315 students. Last year, the numbers was 320.
Gunn said his 5th – 8th grade school numbers is 259 this year, from 270 last year (with three who enrolled on Monday).
Martin said the high school, 9th – 12th grade, has 223 current students, from 239 last year. That’s down just 32 students from last year.

Although the official count doesn’t come until October 1, Gunn said he expects more students to enroll. There was a comment that some of the Epic students (a government funded online learning program) might be back to LPS.

Dr. Buxton also reported that school safety will be improved upon this year, with crisis planning in the event of an intruder situation at any of the district’s buildings.

Board President Matt Mohr tabled an agenda item for providing mental health and counseling services because the wrong vendor was listed. The contract is to be considered for Brighter Tomorrow (not New Horizons as listed).

In other board action, a contract with attorney Phyllis Walta of Hennessey was approved. She charges $250 a month for five hours of work, with $135 hourly rate thereafter.

The board gave its yes vote to various student and scholarship accounts to operate: Trevino Scholarship Fund, Lion Foundation, Touchdown Club, 4H Club and FFA “I Believe” Scholarship.

The board approved contracts with Integrated Pest Control, Josh Davis for IT Networking and Odyssey Ware through Gordon Cooper Technology Center to provide alternative education for students to help them earn a high school diploma.

DeFuria was a “no” vote on most of the items. He said it wasn’t that he has anything against any contractor or service, but he is concerned about the district’s governance.

“I wouldn’t be like this if there wasn’t overspending,” DeFuria said. “I’m going to keep their feet to the fire.”

DeFuria did vote yes with the other board members on new activity fund-raisers. From the elementary school’s cookie dough sales, to the band’s paint a parking spot and dozens of others fundraisers – school activities will be relying on the community to support the extras. Meantime, there is an effort by Jennifer Edmunson and others on the Luther Teacher Wishlists Facebook page to actually buy textbooks for students in Geometry (next is Algebra 2) to replace falling apart and missing texts. There’s no shortage of ways to help.

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