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Three votes OK $34M budget

By Dean Backes

The June 29 Harrisonville R-9 School Board Meeting appeared to be rolling along. Then it hit the dreaded budget and that was when confusion and, at times, embattlement took hold.

Due to a decline in enrollment about three years ago, the school board cut C-team sports from the budget disallowing many students the opportunity to compete in the sports. C-teams serve as entry-level programs for the high school’s varsity and junior varsity programs. Now, three years later, those sports teams are still being axed.

“We’ve cut teaching positions as our enrollment has declined and until we feel like we’re in a stable position financially, we’re not going to look to add anything back in,” Harrisonville Schools Superintendent Paul Mensching said. “When we do, it’ll be a comprehensive look, not just one item at a time. That’s probably the approach that we will take.”

Board member Bing Schimmelpfenning weighed in on the issue as well, but with a completely different take.

“The problem we’re having is that (the cuts) affected about 80 to 100 kids, their parents and family members,” Schimmelpfenning said. “These are the kids that are not necessarily good enough to get on the varsity or JV teams, but they still like to play sports. When they cut those teams, in time we’re thinking, this isn’t something that’s going to last.”

Schimmelpfenning said along with the C-team sports, the board cut girls swimming, costing one student a scholarship because she needed a fourth year of swimming, the forensics team and drama club.

Several students approached the school administration about forming a boys volleyball team after they had recruited enough players to play.

“They were told, ‘It would look bad if we let you form the team because we don’t allow C-team sports,’” Schimmelpfenning said.

“We defunded the C-team sports and so these kids were absolutely heart broken. Some of them went to Raymore-Peculiar, a competing school district, tried out for the team and play for that team.

“That’s not what we’re there for. We’re there for the kids. We’re there for the education – for the continued growth and academic achievement – and when they do stuff like that, it’s ridiculous. So, that’s why I voted against the budget.”

Mensching did acknowledge that there was a request made through the athletic department to form a boys volleyball team by some of the students. The superintendent pointed out that the Missouri State High School Activities Association does not sanction boys’ volleyball and they would in essence, be forming a club sport.

“It was denied,” Mensching said. “Obviously, we’ve reduced other sports. We didn’t feel like we were going to add an additional sport which was not going to be a MSHSAA-sanctioned event which could possibly put us in a position where we would violate Title IX as well.”

According to Schimmelpfenning, the only board member to cast a dissenting vote on the budget, the Harrisonville School Foundation looked into sponsoring C-Team sports which he guessed would cost around $25,000 to $30,000. He also said several businesses in town were willing to fork over the funds to sponsor the teams.

“When you’re looking at a $34 million budget, that really isn’t that much,” Schimmelpfenning said. “But it affects so many. And they said, ‘Oh well, they didn’t want to go against the administration.’ Which is kind of silly to me because you’re not going against the administration, you’re going against the kids and the parents of the district.”

Schimmelpfenning also mentioned a third-party cleaning company the school district contracts with to do its cleaning and perform other janitorial tasks. He said the company went to the school board and asked for a 2.9 percent increase in their service fee so they could give their employees raises and bring them up to a normal salary schedule because they hadn’t been able to do it for some time. The board approved the increase.

Speaking later in the week, Schimmelpfenning said, “My point was, who cares? That’s not our problem. They are a business just like we are a business. So, as we have to cut expenses, they need to cut expenses. What they’ve done now is they’ve taken money away from our kids –our teachers – to pay third-party contractors that we went to because it was supposed to save us money.”

Mensching said the purchase service contracts are typically based on multi-year deals with the three largest being transportation, food services and custodial and maintenance. Durham Transportation, for example, is a five-year contract that has an escalating yearly fee which is a percentage.

As does OPAA Mensching said. Mensching added that ABBCO is a five-year contract with a yearly review of cost and we’re in year three.

“Of course, the initial cost is year one,” Mensching continued. “And the second year we had no increase. This year we had a 2.5-3.0 percent increase.

“It’s a yearly contract. I mean, we could say, ‘No, we’re not going to honor the increase, so we’re going to go out and bid again.’ But typically, you bid those on a five-year basis. Those large contracts.”

Following last week’s vote, there was some question as to whether the budget had passed because it was thought that a ‘yes’ vote from the majority of the school board was needed, not the majority of those members present.

The school examined its policies and contacted its attorneys to verify the budget had indeed passed. They verified, along with the school’s attorneys that it had.

“They pulled out something saying there is only two or three things that require four people to vote on and the budget specifically wasn’t named on that list,” Schimmelpfenning said. “You would think that’s the biggest thing that board votes on – a $34 million budget – and three people can pass it? They contact the attorneys, and they say, ‘Yes, it passed.’ Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?”

Schimmelpfenning, Doug Meyer, Brittney Sexton and Cameron Chenoweth were the only members present; Nancy Shelton, Tina Graef and Doug Alexander were absent.

“I was a little concerned the budget would not pass with just four members present,” Mensching said, “Because it was not a majority board. However, after we looked at board policy and talked to our attorneys, the budget only needs a majority of the quorum to pass.”

Schimmelpfenning said his next step is to amend the policy by adding the words, ‘including the budget’ on the list requiring support from the majority of the board.

Like he said he does every year, Schimmelpfenning said he sent an email asking that C-team sports be added back into the budget. School officials acknowledged they had received the email.

Mensching did discuss the Chapter 100 Tax Abatement the school district has received from the Walmart Distribution Center the last 20 years. He said the abatement expired last November and from what he recalled, the payment to that point was $300,000. When it expired, Mensching said the money went onto the tax rolls and eventually became Fund 1 Money.

Mensching said Fund 1 Money can be used for anything in the district, except capital project improvements. After reeling off a list of items the money could be used for, Mensching said C-team sports could be funded with the money.

“So yes, there is additional money there,” Mensching said when discussing the Fund 1 list. “But again, our enrollment continues to decline. So we gain local money, we lose state money. That’s how we end up, I guess.”

Newkirk Novak Construction Manager Brandon Stanley was also at the meeting to go over the progress they are making with the many projects they are tackling around the school district. To date, he said everything is on schedule.

Harrisonville Rotary Club President Doug Meyer also presented Mensching and all district staff with the ‘Service Above Self Award,’ for the year. In other action, the board:

The board approved the 2021-22 revised coaching salary schedule as presented. After last month’s meeting, it was discovered there was an error on the coaching salary schedule. The change makes the percentages for middle school football consistent with the other middle school coaching positions.

The board approved an amendment to adjust the expenditure appropriations budget as presented and to approve a resolution authorizing a transfer from the general fund to the special revenue fund in the amount necessary to eliminate a special revenue fund or teacher’s fund deficit of $211,756. The business office is in the process of closing the year and there are expenditure accounts that require a budget amendment.

The board awarded the bid for HES playground equipment installation to ATHCO in the amount of $39,015 as presented.

The board accepted the bid for fuel products as specified to MFA Oil Company for the 2021-22 school year based on the pricing provided.

The board voted to approve the 2021-22 booster club contract as presented.

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