2014-15 budget increases but taxes go down.

A Kansas Supreme Court ruling last April that required the Kansas Legislature to correct inequalities in education funding worked, as promised, for USD 382. At a meeting Monday night, the Board of Education approved a 2014-15 budget that is almost $1.6 million larger than the previous year, but reduces the amount of local taxes to be collected by a third of a million and the levy by 1.5 mils.

The new budget is $17,535,422, to be supported by $4,298,644 in local funds at an estimated levy of 50.339 mils.

The state added $14 per pupil to the base budget and restored more than $100,000 in state aid to the district’s capital outlay and local option budgets.

Superintendent Suzan Patton explained that she built the budget assuming enrollment similar to last year’s, even though the headcount has increased in each of the last two years. If that occurs again, the district can republish the budget to take advantage of additional funds.

The budget allows for an additional teacher at both kindergarten and first grade levels and provides for transportation, insurance and special education assessments that were known to go up.

The capital outlay levy, at 4 mils for the last couple of years, was earlier increased to 5 mils by board action, to address transportation and infrastructure needs.

The board approved the purchase of a 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan from Marmie Motors of Great Bend for $23,546. Patton explained that Ford and Chevrolet no longer make a “family van” that staff could use for going to meetings and conferences, and although Doug Reh Chevrolet did submit a bid for a used vehicle, the new van from the out-of-town dealer offered better value.

Also approved was a contract with Interquest Detection Canines Service for six searches in 2014-15. Board member Kim Stivers clarified that the dogs do not search individual students. Pratt High Principal Steve Blankenship said that students are removed from the area where dogs are searching, and that he or Assistant Principal Curtis Nightingale is always present with Interquest staff.

Patton said that during the last year, no illegal substances were found, but the service was worthwhile in terms of letting students and parents know that the district takes the matter seriously.

Blankenship reported that four Pratt High students, three seniors and a junior, had completed their CNAs (certified nursing assistant), qualifying the district for state funds of $1,000 each. The money for the junior will not be available until she graduates, however.

The money is intended to help students pay for certification tests, Blankenship said, and what is left goes to improve the program at the high school.

Debra Swift, food service manager for Opaa, a Missouri company the district hired to oversee food service, was introduced. She has 15.5 years of experience as a dietary manager of a nursing home and has been assistant dietary manager at Pratt Regional Medical Center for the past seven years.

“I’m really excited about the program,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a big improvement.”

Students will have two choices of entrees at breakfast and lunch, and a salad bar will be available to all students. She has worked with Opaa staff on menus, and said the breakfast menus she received just this week look good.

She will be in Douglass when the program opens there this week, and said Opaa staff will be in Pratt before school starts and during the early days of school to train local workers.

Cafeteria workers will wear khaki capris or slacks, which they must purchase, and a polo shirt and cap provided by the company. Employees will get a $50 clothing allowance to cover the pants and non-skid shoes. Swift admitted some cafeteria workers were not happy about the uniforms, and it’s still unknown how many will return to work.

Nightingale discussed his work during the summer to expand the school’s marketing efforts. Thirty locations were identified for banners in the PHS gym, and he has firm contracts for 29, with the 30th business owner still negotiating.

At the beginning of the summer, he contacted all businesses that had previously advertised in the yearbook or on sports posters, explaining that the school will be selling its own advertising.

“I got a lot of positive feedback from businesses, and got quite a few new ads,” he said. “They wanted somebody they knew, somebody here in town and liked that more of the money would stay local.”

The school did, however, miss the window to cancel a contract with Five Star Sports, which had already sold the fall sports calendar. The school will sell the basketball poster.

Nightingale said he is looking for a location at Pratt High to set up the banner printer and start production.

Summer maintenance projects have included renovation of the Liberty Middle School gym, which is complete except for some painting, replacement of bleacher sections at Zerger Field, and work to reconfigure space for the welding and woodworking programs at PHS.