Noting that the school district budget is “a living, breathing document” Financial Director Stuart Simpson told the North Platte school board Monday that state aid could be cut $900,000 in the coming year.
Simpson said the reduction, if it occurs as expected, is caused by a state budget crunch.
That would be the second straight year for a big cut in state aid. This year, the district endured a $1.4 million cut, due to a tight state budget coupled with a decline in enrollment of about 110 students, compared to enrollment in 2016-17.
Simpson said district leaders might have to consider consolidating more classes into fewer buildings, as well as finding ways to attract more students.
Meanwhile, property taxpayers will likely pick up the shortfall, according to the budget summary that Simpson presented to the school board.
Simpson also presented a graph that showed the average cost per pupil has soared by 23% during the last five years, across an array of Nebraska schools about the size of North Platte.
North Platte resident Bernice Zeigler urged the board to be good watchdogs of the situation, and keep the property taxpayers in mind.
“Avoid tax increases, reduce spending and boost enrollment,” Zeigler said.
Zeigler, a patient, diligent 91-year-old taxpayer’s advocate, waited for 90 minutes to speak to the board during the time allotted for public comments.
In the only vote at the meeting, the board approved an amended school calendar for next year (2018-19) and a preliminary school calendar for 2019-20.
The board also heard numerous reports, including one about a program to place student interns with businesses in the community. The internship program has about a dozen students now and aims to double in size in the fall semester, director Amy Sabatka said.
A new course of study in the high school was also unveiled – Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
The teacher and first director of the program is Kathleen Cullinan, who is starting to build the program for next fall.
Vikki Carlson, the director of teaching and learning at the middle and high schools, said agriculture is not included now in five career fields that students can investigate through their studies, even though agriculture is the basis of the state’s economy. One of every three adults in Nebraska works in an ag-related business.
Cullinan is a 2013 graduate of North Platte High. She holds an agriculture degree from Oklahoma State University. She spent the last two years at Kearney High, helping build an ag and FFA program there.
Also, the board used new microphones for the first time, in an upgrade of the room’s PA system. The sound was better, largely because the microphones will pick up a voice from someone who is 4-6 inches away, a much longer range than the old system.
The new PA system cost the district $38,000 plus trade in, Simpson told the Bulletin after the meeting.