By KARI BLURTON
With the district facing more than a million-dollar budget deficit for the 2014-15 school year, Hays USD 489 Superintendent Dean Katt presided over the first of seven community “Talking Tours” Wednesday to discuss the upcoming local option budget election, emphasizing if the LOB increase is passed, the “No. 1 priority is to reduce class size” by rehiring some of the 16 teachers who recently received notice their jobs would be cut.
Speaking to 13 people at the Hays High School site council, Katt said the average USD 489 class size ranges between 21 to 23 students, but large classes are a problem within third, fourth and fifth grades — leaving one teacher to handle as many as 29 students in some cases.
“And we know that is high, and we would like to reduce that — and that is the priority of the board,” Katt said. “The board has said if we do pass the LOB to 31 percent, it would be used to bring back some of those lower-grade level teachers and then work our way up from there.”
According to Katt, if the LOB were passed, the proposed fee increases and transportation cuts up for discussion at Monday’s school board meeting might not be necessary, as well.
Katt displayed a chart to the crowd and explained, should voters approve the one percent LOB increase in June, the mill levy would increase .0002 mills.
“That would cost, on a $100,000 home, $2.3o a year or .19 cents a month and generate $198,000 which would go into the district’s general fund,” he said.
Responding to a question from the audience, Katt did acknowledge once the LOB is raised to 31 percent the board does have the option to raise the LOB another 1 percent or 2 percent without a public referendum.
“The LOB could go to 32 or 33 percent. … It is an option, but it would have to happen after the election,” Katt said, pointing out if the school board voted to raise the LOB, the increase would only be in effect for one year and it would then revert to 31 percent.
“At that point, if (the board) wanted to (raise the LOB permanently), it would have to go to vote,” said Katt.
Katt said a number of factors have led to the district’s budget shortfall including state funding cuts beginning in 2009 in which the district’s general operating funds declined from $24.6 million in 2008-09 to $23.3 million in 2013-2014. He also said enrollment figures were predicted incorrectly and figures for wage increases for teachers were budgeted incorrectly.
Katt said mail-in ballots will be sent to every registered voter in the USD 489 district June 11, and ballots must be returned to the Ellis County District Clerk by noon June 27.
Until then, Katt said he plans “to visit civic organizations and anyone I can to get the word out.”
For a full Talking Tour schedule and more information on the LOB election visit the USD 489 website.