IRSD’s student activity funding spurs discussion, further review

 

GEORGETOWN – Penny for your thoughts.

One cent in the 49-cent current expense tax hike approved by Indian River School District voters in March 2017 has spurred discussion, scrutiny and further review.

An eight-cent hike earmarked for student services and support created a $1.2 million sub-pot in the total $7.35 million current expense measure. One penny of that represents $150,000 for student activity funding.

The district’s finance committee and board members plan to take a closer look at student activity funding procedures its next meeting following questions and concerns raised by several board members at the April 23 school board meeting.

Board member James Fritz raised concerns about the lop-sided requests for student travel.

James Fritz

“I’ve got some concerns on the direction this is going. The only costs that I am seeing that are being proposed or estimated are travel. This one penny was not designed to be a travel fund,” said Mr. Fritz. “The FFA raises a lot of money for the things that they want to do. They could go towards not raising money and depending on this program.”

As stated under student activity funding procedures in the board’s April 23 agenda, the “Indian River School District will provide funding each year to assist in defraying the costs of student activity programs that do not already receive district funding. The funding can be used towards school associated travel or other individual program costs. The awarded amount will be the actual cost, up to $500 per student and advisor per activity per school year. Advisor funding will be based on the appropriate student to advisor ratio determined by the district. The funds will be paid to the student’s respective school, not to the individual student or advisor. Each school will submit a Student Activity Funding Request to the Director of Business, who along with the superintendent or their designee, will review and approve the requested funding.”

“The one penny gets $150,000 a year. I’ve read the procedures that are in place here,” Mr. Fritz said. “When this was originally discussed this was for any student programs. It could be athletic needs as well. It had to do with any kind of student programs. How do we police when someone turns in an application for their requesting of money? Can you turn it in in September for a trip in June?

“No, because you have to know what your costs are,” said IRSD Director of Business Jan Steele.

“Well, not necessarily because I see, wasn’t there one of these that said, ‘estimate based on last year?’” said Mr. Fritz.

“No, that was an estimate on the number of students that could possibly be included. They have to list what the student costs,” said Ms. Steele.

Dr. Heather Statler

School board member Dr. Heather Statler recalled conversation at the finance committee where she requested that language be included “so that we don’t have groups that come in perhaps in September, October and November and the funds are depleted before folks from the spring would be able to submit. Did you add any language to the procedures for that?”

“No, I didn’t,” Ms. Steele said.

“I’d like to make that request again as was discussed in the finance committee meeting, because I think it is critical to have that in there. There has to be some mechanism so that we don’t have a large group of people submitting a request very early in the academic year and then other folks don’t have an opportunity to access that,” said Dr. Statler.

“Dr. Statler, we did discuss that,” said board member Jim Hudson, noting he recalled suggestions that there would be separate amounts for like fall, spring and winter. “That is my understanding. We want to make sure everybody has a fair shot at this.”

“If that is the procedure I think It should be reflected in the document,” said Dr. Statler.

Questioned at the March board of education meeting, Ms. Steele said while the procedure language indicates funding is for “programs that do not already receive district funding,” money can be requested and utilized by programs experiencing “insufficient” funding.

Mr. Fritz emphasized the activity fund was not designed as a travel program. “And I know athletics was discussed because one of the specific incidents was our now current at that time new soccer coach at Sussex Central, trying to build a program, going through inventory and only had 11 JV uniforms, not even enough for backups,” said Mr. Fritz. “He had to go and try to request money. There wasn’t money in the athletic budget so then he had to turn and try to raise the money. And I actually think Dr. (Bradley) Layfield fronted him money out of the school (fund) to buy uniforms and then get paid back after they raised the money. That was like $1,500. It is not a lot. But that was a perfect example of where this flexible money should be allowed to be used on a yearly basis.”

Another example could be the band uniforms, Mr. Fritz said.

“This is supposed to be flexible money. And what I am afraid of is it’s becoming a travel fund. That is all the expenses I am seeing on here. What I am also afraid of is that groups that have raised money in the past do to their traveling will stop raising money and will depend on this, and then one year when they don’t get their request in early enough, they don’t get the funds and they are used to getting them. I don’t like the direction where this money is going,” said Mr. Fritz. “To me, your predecessor (the school’s former finance director) didn’t put the money aside like he was supposed to, to cover the 10-year window for band uniforms. Now we are struck with two schools that need band uniforms and the money is not there. To me that is a perfect opportunity for money like this, that is money that is not already spoken for to be used for a lot of kids. To me that it is a viable expenditure.”

It was noted at the meeting that a number of students are members of groups that have qualified for competitions, including national/world events, requiring travel.

“I only did this knowing that the organizations are traveling right now. That was the main reason,” said Ms. Steele.

“This may sound cold, but I am not necessarily concerned about trying to pass something so quick to help the students right now because they have been raising money in the past and I would think they have been raising money this year for their trips,” said Mr. Fritz.

Ms. Steele suggested that at the next finance committee meeting “we actually write the policy together there. My understanding obviously was a little different. That way we can all contribute to the policy instead of me trying to guess what we need in the policy.”

“I think that is a good idea,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. “I think we are going to have to research that one cent because I know the other night at the finance (meeting) Ms. Steele brought up using some of that money for band uniforms, and that was not looked upon as a way to use that money. I’ve got to be honest, she may be as confused on this as I am on what we use it for and what we don’t.”

“I have a little different recollection of that, Mr. Fritz, but that was two years ago. I’m old enough to tell you this now; I don’t remember things like I used to,” said Mr. Steele. “My suggestion is we research that one cent and we find out what we had in minutes and notes. And we decide at that finance committee meeting exactly what we are going to use it for – and stay with it.”

“I will add that even once we know definitively what that penny is for, we still need to iron out the procedure, which is what I had asked Ms. Steele at the last finance committee meeting to put together,” said Dr. Statler.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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