The Geary County Board of Education held a work session on the evening of February 17th, 2020. While there were no official votes held, there were several important issues that were discussed.
This meeting was not live-streamed due to unexpected issues with the TriCaster equipment. Several district employees made every effort to troubleshoot the equipment but were unable to regain functionality before the meeting started. Several members of the community, local media, and the district, including several school principals, were in attendance.
Technology Purchases and Replacements
The district had a surprise technology budget shortfall this year, due to government rules regarding the E-Rate. The E-Rate is the program run by the FCC that makes telecommunications and internet more affordable for libraries and schools. This is made possible through charges on regular phone bills for businesses and citizens, which usually show up as Universal Service Charge. Those funds are used to offer rebates of up to 85% for specific services and equipment used for schools and libraries.
This program is run by the Universal Service Administrative Company, or the USAC. The USAC updated the rules for this year, which caused an unexpected budget shortfall for USD 475. The district expected to receive approximately $400,000 from these rebates for this year to use towards things like network switches, battery backups, and wireless access points. The district anticipated using most of the rebates to purchase and install equipment at the new JCHS and to replace aging equipment at JCMS. However, the district recently learned that instead of receiving the $400,000 in rebates expected, it would only be eligible for $88,000 in rebates for this year.
USD 475 needs to reprioritize projects based on the new rebate amount and has decided to focus on replacing old equipment at the middle school, which is reaching the end of its life expectancy. The district expects to receive normal rebates next year, which will allow for new equipment for the new high school to be purchased and installed in plenty of time for the August 2021 anticipated opening.
Additionally, USD 475 will be replacing 77 technology displays that are in use at JCMS. These include interactive and non-interactive displays. The district has been testing 6 different models of displays, but all are 77” displays and are on movable carts. The district planned for these replacements and has allocated $250,000 towards the replacements. Karl Ward, Director of Information Technology, assured the board that the displays can be replaced within the allocated budget.
Administrator Early Retirement Option – Potential Change
Marilee Fredricks, Chief Financial Officer for USD 475, gave a presentation last night regarding an early retirement benefit option that is currently offered to USD 475 administrative employees that meet certain criteria. The early retirement option is currently offered to employees that have been continuously employed with USD 475 for at least 15 years, are at least 58 years old, and are eligible to retire with KPERS. This early retirement option allows the retiree to keep his or her health insurance through the district and the district will continue to pay its portion of the benefit, while the retiree will be responsible for continuing to pay his or her portion. In addition, the retiree will receive an annual payment from the district, which is calculated based on the number of years of service the employee had with the district. The early retirement option was designed to act as a bridge until the retiree is old enough to qualify for Social Security benefits. It is unknown when the district first implemented this option as a benefit, but according to district records, it has been in use since at least 2002.
Based on discussions within the committee that is reviewing this benefit, it was recommended that the district discontinue offering this benefit to administrative staff only. Marilee pointed out that this type of benefit is usually only used during times of economic recession, when an entity may need to encourage employees at the higher end of the pay scale to retire early, so that the entity can backfill the position with someone who has less experience and will require less pay, or to leave the position vacant, therefore saving the cost of the salary of that position. It is usually a cost saving effort that is implemented for short periods of time.
Marilee recommended discontinuing offering this benefit in June of 2020 and offering a lesser benefit for the next 3 years, with the benefit being discontinued completely after the 3 years. Some members of the board felt that an appropriate correction would be to leave the benefit in place for current employees but discontinue offering it to future administrative hires. Currently, there are only 11 employees within the district that are eligible for this benefit. Superintendent Eggleston stated that none of those 11 employees responded that they planned to take advantage of this benefit this year, when asked.
The Board will vote on the matter at a future meeting. Any changes made to this benefit would be for administrative employees only and would not affect certified personnel. The Board also emphasized that this benefit has been under review for a significant amount of time, which predates the arrival of Dr. Eggleston as Superintendent. The Board also strongly emphasized that the goal of the Board is to encourage good employees within the district to remain working for the district, and that it does not want to encourage anyone to leave.
Changes to the Hiring Process
Dawn Toomey, Executive Director of Human Resources, gave a presentation to the Board regarding changes that are being implemented in the hiring practices of USD 475. These changes stem from a surprise informal audit on USD 475 conducted by Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) in 2019. KSDE found that USD 475 was not in compliance with its requirements for keeping records of licenses of certified employees. KSDE issued citations to USD 475 for the errors but did not fine the district.
USD 475 has previously hired individuals that had not fully completed the requirements of obtaining appropriate licenses, with the expectation that the individual would complete the process soon after hiring. This has led to inconsistencies and incomplete information in employee records. This has also resulted in individuals being hired for positions that did not hold the qualifications necessary for that position at the time of hire.
Several changes are being made to the application and hiring process to address this issue. First, the district will require that all applicants indicate the status of any required licenses on the application. For example, the application will ask if the applicant has applied for a license, and at what stage of the licensure process he or she is in. Additionally, the personnel department will add commentary to applications, like whether the applicant possesses the appropriate credentials to hold the position. The personnel department will be responsible for the ultimate approval of all hiring for all positions, allowing for a process to ensure the appropriate documentation has been gathered. The district will issue a Letter of Intent to candidates that require it for licensure, contingent on the license being acquired. If a candidate does not acquire the appropriate license before July 15th, the district will relist the position as open and search for a new candidate. This is to ensure that the position is filled before the school year begins.
Open positions will now be categorized by facility, allowing applicants to apply to a specific school or site. School administrators will now send a list of applicants they wish to be considered for open positions to the personnel department. The Superintendent will appoint individuals to an interview panel and building administrators will be invited to participate in the panel for candidates they wish to consider. If an applicant is not chosen for the desired position within a specific building, personnel services will encourage the applicant to apply for similar positions within other buildings in the district.
There was a discussion that some principals are concerned that their schools will miss out on some applicants and that it may be harder to fill positions within their schools. Superintendent Eggleston and Board President Rena D. Neal discussed the possibility of centralizing the application and hiring process, which would include placing qualified applicants in vacant positions, rather than allowing applicants to choose which schools to apply for.
The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Monday, March 2nd, at 6:30 pm, in the Board Room at the Mary E. Devin Center for Learning.