CLOPTON – Thursday’s meeting of the school board governing Clopton and Pike-Lincoln Technical Center followed a now familiar pattern: long and sometimes winding deliberations about the district’s finances leading to a vote that splits the board more or less in half.
The major topic of Tuesday’s meeting was the district’s reserves, the financial cushion maintained by school districts. A higher rate of reserves protects districts from unexpected expenses and swings in revenue. A lower rate can free up money to be put to work elsewhere.
For at least several months the board has discussed giving Superintendent Mark Harvey a target rate to keep in mind while drawing up budgets and tracking the district’s spending. On Thursday, they finally did so — setting the reserve rate at 35 percent — but not without some controversy. Harvey had said that the reserves had been at 40 percent as of last month.
Harvey introduced the conversation by saying he wanted a sense of the reserve rate the board wanted him to aim for after the district addressed a series of major investments in the school’s facilities, a process he said would be complete “hopefully after two or three years.” Harvey said he would work with the district’s administrators to come up with a list of those capital projects.
“I think 35 percent is a realistic number, once you have your maintenance plan in place,” Harvey said.
A minority of board members ultimately voted against the suggested rate. During the board’s deliberations they probed how the goal reserve rate would interact with the district’s budget — asking whether a high goal rate might require the district to make cuts, and how the fiscal leg-room produced by a lower rate would be spent.
“Here’s my thing — what’s the point of doing this? Let’s say — and I’m just going to use a fictitious number — we’re at 43 percent right now and we agree that we operate at 45, does that mean that we adjust our budget to meet what the desired reserve is and all the sudden we spend all that money?” Lockard asked. “To me that doesn’t make sense.”
Ultimately unsatisfied with the answers they received, three board members — Lockard, Greg Talbert and Christy Kuntz — voted against the motion. Melanie Mathis, Mark Liana, Curt Mitchell and Bob Danuser voted in favor. The motion was made by Mathis and seconded by Mitchell.
Liana, one of the supporters of the motion, said there were limits to how low the board could allow the rate to drop.
“You could hire more teachers all you want, and set it at 10 percent, but would you be comfortable with that if something happens? We have a responsibility to the school district and the people to make sure we can maintain the school,” Liana said.
The board signed off on PLTC as the sponsoring agency for training programs for staff at the Elsberry Health Care Center in Lincoln County.
“At this point there’s little to no cost for us, but in meeting with the administration at Elsberry Healthcare Center, we envision this as something that can help our community in general and offer some additional evening and day-time courses,” PLTC Director Martin Hanley said.
Hanley also told the board that enrollment at PLTC this year was the highest in seven years.
More than 500 people were served at Clopton FFA’s barbecue week before last according to high school principal Larry Lagemann.
“They had a very good turnout. They did well, its a big money-maker for them,” Lagemann said.
Harvey told the board that the district was “very short” on substitutes for roles across the district. The district continues to have an especially acute problem recruiting bus drivers.
Harvey told the board that the night of the meeting a group scheduled to attend a practice in Elsberry had been unable to do so because all of the school’s drivers were out on trips.
“I’m very concerned that that will continue to impact activities. We don’t want to do that. If you know parents or grandparents reach out to them [to see if] they’re interested in driving a trip bus,” Harvey said.