Schools could have trouble balancing budget

Lisa Hammer

It could be very difficult to maintain a balanced budget next year, Superintendent Don Achelpohl told the Orion school board on Wednesday, June 18.

May’s 0.6 percent inflation rate is 7.2 percent annually if it lasts, he said.

“If prices go up 7.2 percent and there’s no more new money from the state and property taxes flat-line, that could be some serious problems,” Achelpohl said.

He said the district is in better shape than six years ago. There were only enough reserve funds in the education fund to cover 11 school days; there are now 115 days’ worth in reserve. He said running the district costs $600,000 per month.

Nevertheless, by May this year, the district had received just under 70 percent of this year’s anticipated revenue, which Achelpohl said was the “lowest in the last five years and maybe in seven or eight,” due to state aid not coming in.

Orion High School is still waiting for final test scores, but Achelpohl said it appears the school would have qualified as an “A+” school except for the “funding per student” category. According to the state, the district is not spending enough.

“We have good ‘bang for the buck,’” he said. “It’s just that we can’t show that we’re spending the money that they would like to see.”

Both the grade school and the middle school made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Parents may notice their students’ lunch money disappears faster this next year. The board approved increases in a la carte prices due to higher suppliers’ costs.

The grade school playground project is on indefinite hold, even though the school has raised close to $20,000 for the project. Principal Shari Flagg, attending her final Orion board meeting before leaving for a job in Kentucky, asked the board to consider contributing district funds.

“With the rising oil prices, we decided it would not be cost-effective to try to do any part of it at this time,” she said. “We’re working on it but we have a long way to go. It really does need to be done whenever it can be.”

Achelpohl reported all nine “spider” lights on the middle school parking lot have failed, and the supplier, McGraw-Edison, has not responded to requests to replace them.

Another contractor gave a preliminary estimate of $10,300 to replace them, but Achelpohl is going to see if he can get that cost lower. The middle school was completed in 2003.

“One was a break that also shorted out the wire and we had a hot pole,” he said. “It should have been grounded under the concrete, but it’s not worth digging it up to find out.”

The board also approved a three-year, $65,950 technology lease-to-own program and learned some of the district’s laptop computers are more than five years old and now overwhelming the wireless network. They will likely be hardwired for use in the art room, according to Achelpohl.

The board also:

• approved a two-year middle school football co-op with Cambridge

• set a July 14 bid opening to replace a high school freezer-cooler

• learned 28 students and six staff members will spend Saturday, July 19, working on a Davenport house for Habitat for Humanity

• hired Kim Hepner to teach seventh grade English literature, Rachel Nunciato as a grade school teacher and Linda Anderson for an overload Spanish 2 sections

• approved a $19,044 bid for a new heating/air conditioning roof unit at the district office

• recognized Matt Knoll and Nick Graber for going to state in track