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School board OKs bonds for two building projects

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By Dave Bell

Though the Vandalia School Board’s regular meeting lasted only 45 minutes, the board covered a lot of ground – holding two special meetings prior to the regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night.
First on the agenda was a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. to consider the sale of $300,000 in school fire prevention and safety bonds to finance recent Health/Life Safety improvements in the district.
Those projects include boiler replacements at Vandalia Community High School and Jefferson Primary School (and related asbestos removal at both schools), and the replacement of 68 failing window units at the high school.
To fund the projects, the district took advantage of a group of bonds worth about $1.5 million that were available to refinance at a lower rate at this time. The refinancing was explained by Tim King of King’s Financial Consulting of Monticello.
By refinancing the bonds, which terminate in 2022, at lower rates, the district will save about $150,000 in interest payments over the next 12 years, he said. And by using about $300,000 for the Health/Life Safety projects now, the board will not be extending the length of the bonds – just keeping the last year’s payment at the same level as the preceding ones, rather than having it drop off as it was originally scheduled to do.
“Bonds are the mechanism that the state has allowed for us to address our financial needs,” said Superintendent Rich Well. “It won’t affect the levy or the number of years we’ll be paying; it will just change the amount we’re paying in 2021 and 2022.”
After discussing the proposal, board member Chris Palmer said, “If we can save $150,000 in future payments and put that money back into projects to improve our buildings, I’m OK with that.”
The board had voted to approve the refinancing at its July meeting, but was required to hold a public hearing before that vote was effective.
The second special meeting of the night was a hearing on the district’s 2010-11 budget.
Lori Meseke, district business manager, presented the details of the $14.37-million budget.
She began the presentation by saying that since the state owes the district more than $500,000, the budget was prepared using an approach in which “revenues are estimated low and expenditures are budgeted high.” That approach, she said, would accommodate the recent unpredictability of payments from the state.
As with most downstate, rural school systems, the Vandalia district is highly dependent on state revenues to fund district programs. Of the $14.37-million budget, about 55 percent ($7.94 million) comes from the state, 31 percent ($4.42 million) comes from local tax revenues and 14 percent ($2 million) comes from federal sources.
Additionally, the district’s state aid funding is down this year because of a decrease in the average daily attendance in the district. The lower student headcounts have resulted in a loss of $122,702 in state aid, she said.
On the expense side of the budget, Meseke noted that, like many businesses, the lion’s share of the district’s expenses have to do with people. Salaries account for 71 percent ($9.21 million) and benefits represent another 13 percent ($1.7 million). Behind those two leading categories, the major expenditures are for supplies (7 percent or $946,723), other/tuition (6 percent or $753,288), purchased services (2 percent or $242,708) and capital outlay (1 percent or $85,565).
Overall, the budget as presented has a deficit of about $50,000 in the operating funds – the funds over which the district has spending control. The biggest deficit occurs in the Life Safety fund, where the window and boiler projects rolled up anticipated expenditures of $347,000. About $47,000 will be offset by budgeted revenues in the category, but the remaining $300,000 will be paid for by funds from the bond refinancing.
Helping provide a cushion against the state’s financial difficulties is the surplus that the district has been able to accumulate over the past four years. The district started the fiscal year on July 1 with a balance of $3,088.015.
Well noted that when he assumed the superintendent’s position, the district was $1.52 million in the red. A referendum in 2007 provided for $2.2 million, but the district has managed to save about $3 million since 2006.
“We must keep in mind where we came from,” Well said. “It took the help of everyone in the district – administration, staff, the board – but we’re in a much better position now.”
The budget was approved unanimously by the board.
During the abbreviated regular meeting, the board heard enrollment reports from the building principals. The following enrollment numbers were given:
■ Vandalia High School: 114 seniors, 115 juniors, 128 sophomores and 121 freshmen.
■ Vandalia Junior High School: 127 eighth graders, 121 seventh graders, 125 sixth graders and 124 fifth graders.
■ Vandalia Elementary School: 122 fourth graders, 115 third graders and 118 second graders.
■ Jefferson Primary School: 106 first graders, 115 kindergarteners, five TLC students and 11 Early Childhood students. The overall numbers were down for Jefferson Primary because the Pre-K program was dropped due to state funding issues.
At the end of the meeting, the board took the following action:
• Accepted the retirement of Shayla Kline, effective June 30, 2015 (approved by Mid-State Board in 2008); Susan Sutherland, effective June 30, 2015; and reduction of hours for Edna Alton, effective Nov. 2, 2010.
• Approved bids for oil and tires by South Central FS ­– $932.80 for motor oil and $15,096.44 for tires.
•Approved the destruction of executive session audio recordings older than 18 months.
• Approved the annual application for recognition of schools.
• Approved the second reading of ISBE-VCUSD No. 203 policy updates.
• Approved the employment of Eric Sinclair as VCHS assistant baseball coach and VJHS seventh-grade boys basketball coach, and Joe Schaal as eighth-grade boys basketball coach.
• Appointed Staci Carroll as the district’s local election official.
School board member Jay Smith was absent from the meeting.