The Monticello Independent Board of Education has voted to proceed with a hearing before the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) regarding the district’s designation as state managed. The decision was made during the regular meeting of the board last Thursday, January 17.
The emotional four-hour meeting was held in the MHS gymnasium, as hundreds of Monticello School faculty, students, parents and concerned citizens were in attendance, waiting for the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns about the school’s current situation.
Members of the local school board voted last month to formally request that the Monticello School District become state managed. Preliminary discussion about a possible merger of the Monticello School District with the Wayne County School District was also held during the December meeting.
During last week’s meeting, board members were to consider a waiver to the KBE hearing for designation as state managed. However, board chairman Jerry Lair noted that he has been advised that it would be best to not waive their right to a hearing, but to proceed forward with plans to have the hearing. He noted that this would give the local school district the opportunity to put together a plan in hopes of saving the Monticello School District.
When the motion to proceed with the hearing was put to a vote, Lair, Shelia Stephenson and newly elected board member Michelle Flynn voted in favor. Bill Denney voted no. Board member Nancy Duncan was not present during that portion of the meeting.
The KBE is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, February 5. However, Gail Binder, a representative with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), noted that the hearing to appeal state management will take place during a special convened meeting of the state board.
After Thursday’s meeting was called to order, Binder and Kay Kennedy, another representative with the KDE, gave a report and power-point presentation highlighting the significant factors that have contributed to the school’s financial woes. The financial problems plaguing the district are at the heart of its current situation.
According to Binder, cash flow has been a major problem for the school district, as there is not enough money to cover expenditures and payroll.
Binder stated that when the school district ended the fiscal year on June 30, 2012, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $351,000. She noted that all of the district’s funds are mingled into a single bank account. Of those individual funds, two are restricted and can only be used for specific purposes. Binder pointed out that it was the money from these two restricted funds, capital outlay and building funds, which kept the checks that the district had been issuing from bouncing.
In addition, Binder stated that the district had $1 million in the general fund two years ago. At the end of the 2011 school year, that amount had dropped to $600,000. At the end of the 2012 fiscal year, the Monticello School District was $350,000 in the red. She then discussed the factors that contributed to the district’s fund balance dropping from $1 million two years ago to a $350,000 deficit at the end of the last school year.
According to Binder, the soccer field purchase is a significant factor in the decrease in the general fund balance. She noted that the soccer field on Hwy. 90 was purchased without approval from the State Department of Education. Since no approval for the soccer field purchase was sought or given, it had to be paid for with money from the general fund because the district was not permitted to use money from the building fund.
In order to finance the purchase, a note had to be taken out at the bank. Binder explained that a CD in excess of $300,000 had to be purchased. The difference between the amount the district paid on the CD and the amount earned from the note is 2.5 percent. She added that approximately $7,500 in interest per year had to be taken out of the general fund on that note.
Another contributing factor to the general fund deficit was baseball field improvements that totaled an estimated $500,000, Binder stated.
Staffing at the Monticello School is another major factor in the financial dilemma facing the school. She mentioned a reduction in SFS funds from the state and noted that when a school district does not cut staff commiserate with reduction of funds, that drains the district’s funds. As a result, the district is paying out more on staff than it has in revenue.
Binder also noted that declining state revenue is a contributing factor to the district’s situation. She pointed out districts not experiencing growth are getting a cut in SEEK funding. Since Monticello School has experienced a decline in enrollment, that has resulted in less SEEK funding coming into the district.
In addition, Binder noted that the CRE audit of the Food Service Department reflected a loss in revenue there as well. She added that the Food Service Department ended the 2012 school year with $17,000 in unpaid lunches on the books. Since then, there has been another $2,400 in unpaid lunches added to that total.
The staff at Monticello School shared the following statement during the school board meeting.
Nancy Sawyer spoke on behalf of the Monticello Elementary faculty.
It was with sad hearts that we voice these comments because we never thought the day would come that we would have to explain to our students that Monticello School may no longer exist. We are very devastated and understand the pain, anguish, and confusion of our students, parents, and community. We were given no warning that our school was facing these dire consequences until it was announced at the December 17 board meeting. Please understand that the current Monticello faculty and staff did not have a role in the decisions that put our school in this situation. We have had our students’ best interest at heart at all times.
The elementary staff is very proud of our students’ accomplishments, and we consider it a privilege to be teachers at Monticello Elementary School. State test scores reflect gains that have been made in all academic areas. Our teachers eagerly seek professional development to increase their effectiveness in the classroom. The family atmosphere at Monticello School is rich with cultural diversity, as our students come to us from various ethnic and economic backgrounds. It has always been our goal and pleasure to respectfully embrace each student individually, along with their diversity, to enhance the learning environment we provide for them. We also love our unique ability to watch, encourage, and support our students as they progress from preschool through 12th grade.
Marsha Bertram spoke on behalf of Monticello Middle School.
The “family” atmosphere also runs very strong at Monticello Middle School. We pride ourselves in knowing our students individually and meeting not only their educational needs, but their social and emotional needs as well. In site of many challenges beyond our control, our school has made significant gains in all academic areas. Our hope for the future is to continue to promote college and career readiness for our student body.
Teresa Rankin spoke on behalf of Monticello High School.
Monticello High School is proud to have produced countless, hardworking, productive, and involved members of our community, state, and nation. These individuals feel a lifelong connection to our school, their teachers, and their classmates. Monticello School is part of their identity. During the last academic year, Monticello High School moved to the fifth percentile from the 32nd percentile. In addition, out of 41 priority schools, Monticello High School ranked 11th. Our academic gains were made without any financial or academic assistance from (the) Kentucky Department of Education. In fact, without financial or academic assistance, Monticello High School has outperformed most of the schools that have been in the priority school system which have received upwards of one and one-half million dollars over a period of three years.
If we could magically make this catatrophe go away, we would gladly continue serving our students at Monticello High School. However, these circumstances are beyond our control. Therefore, we, the staff at Monticello Independent School, will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our students are provided with the absolute best education possible. If the merger occurs, we are willing to make the transition smooth for all people concerned because, as always, our students are first on our hearts and minds.