School board splits vote on card payment option

School lunches, sports and activities, parking permits and more: any parent will agree that there is always some expense or another to pay for when it comes to kids, and on Monday night the school board narrowly voted to allow parents to pay for these school-related costs via credit card if they so choose.
Currently the schools allow for school lunch purchases with a credit card through its online Fee Pay system, but parents must pay the extra charge that credit card companies tack on, which totals almost 4 percent of each transaction.
School business manager Tina Burkholder said these fees would cost the district upwards of $20,000 if they didn’t recoup the transaction fee costs.
Monday evening the board narrowly voted to implement credit card payment options to Fee Pay that would allow parents to pay for all-day kindergarten, sports, activities and other fees, but for these items the district would eat the transaction fee cost to a tune of about $4,500 per year, assuming that about half the payments come in via credit card.
Families currently can only pay for these items through cash or checks, which Burkholder said takes a lot of staff time to process and also costs the district money in the form of deposit fees, to say nothing of the arduous task and lost revenue that comes with trying to collect on bad checks.
In fact, she said there is currently $13,000 left unpaid from the last two years’ all-day kindergarten program.
They have sent these cases to a collection agency but have only gotten another $500 or so paid – 30 percent of which goes to the collection agency.
Board member Scott Hill spoke out against taking action that night, saying that he agreed with the concept but he wanted the district to roll it out with the new school year to give them time to take different things into consideration and discuss the fairness issue of charging the fee for some costs and not for others.
Liz Leitch-Sell disagreed with Hill’s preference of waiting, saying she feels the program could be implemented now and amended over time as they experiment with the best method for covering credit card transaction fees.
“I think sometimes we do things in layers,” she said. “We can do a part that is manageable, learn some things and move to the next piece. I actually totally agree with Scott in where eventually I’d like us to be, but I think this will be a learning experience.”
In the end, the motion passed 3-2 with Jim Lindberg abstaining because he said he wanted more time to look at the options.
Board gets a look at future budget assumptions as planning begins for 2013-14
After the credit card payment discussion ended, Burkholder again addressed the board, this time to discuss the district’s financial forecast.
The numbers showed positive news for the district for the next three years, but future shortfalls after that if funding remains flat and the district does not make any changes to current programming.
For the current school year, she said general fund revenues have been higher than anticipated by just over $1 million due to increased enrollment, an added technology grant and by adding back a 1 percent general education aid given to the district.
Expenditures also increased slightly since the original budget, up slightly under $250,000 due to factors such as an increased utility budget, employee contract negotiations that were not settled when the budget was originally set and also a higher-than-estimated amount needed for retirement severance payments, since the district did not know who was planning to retire in time for the original budget.
Using conservative numbers, Burkholder said enrollment projections should continue their modest increases for the next two schools years, but then level off and even drop slightly starting in the 2015-16 school year.
Though she said it’s too early to make any big decisions based on these projections, she said the district would need to keep a close eye on the budget and make adjustments to compensate for the projected slowdown, especially since they do not know if or when the state government will increase their funding level but they do know that costs for health, dental and workers compensation will continue to grow each year.
Current projections show a fund balance shortfall starting in 2016-17 if funding stays at current levels and enrollment flattens out, even though they currently have a healthy fund balance of just over $4 million.
Because that is so far into the future, Burkholder said it’s not prudent to take the numbers too seriously if they are more than three years out, but that they need to continually reassess and make adjustments to prevent future problems.
“I think that by the end of year three we’ll still be doing pretty well, but we’ll want to make some adjustments going forward,” she said.
“This is not so different from the same assumptions we have made in the past; in fact, it’s pretty much the same,” superintendent Jim Johnson added. “Without putting any [additional] money in for five years, we see what happens. This kind of planning has served us well; we are where we are today because of the hard work and willingness to look out. If you don’t look out past two years, you think everything’s wonderful but you could be spending money that will put you in a real bad spot four or five years down the line.”
In other business, the board:
• Heard from three of the high school’s math teachers, who explained the different things they are doing to help algebra II students succeed on their MCA and Grad exams since this group of students struggled on last year’s exams. Some of their strategies included purchasing about 10 graphing calculators per class so the students who do not have their own will have access to one, implementing continual review into their regular classes each week, hosting MCA prep sessions before and after school and holding open lab times with math tutors or teachers on hand to help. They also started a MCA grad/prep class for juniors that teachers feel will struggle on the MCA test or seniors who did not pass the first time around. Math teacher Barb Hadfield said the class has no homework in an attempt to entice students into taking the course, since this class causes students to double up on math classes and those who struggle in the subject usually would prefer to avoid taking additional math. The math classes have been encouraging students to work on homework in class, where their peers and teacher are around to help out, rather than getting home and getting stuck on their homework with nobody to turn to.
• Accepted donations to the school district: $534 from McDonald’s to Little Mountain for technology; $1,269 from Box Tops for Education to Little Mountain to purchase planners for next school year; $1,000 from John Ziebarth for Pinewood’s student activity account and $563 from Primo Pizza for students in need.
• Approved a request for staffing, including a part-time playground paraprofessional, added hours to a copy paraprofessional and added a .4 seventh grade basketball coach.
• Heard an update from Johnson about school security after having unannounced drills completed in almost all the buildings with police in attendance to offer suggestions. The district will continue to tweak safety policies, he said.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.