Superintendent Bev Mortimer: ‘I don’t think the money is ever coming back’

April 17, 2013 by

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There have been “drastic changes” in the Concordia school district in the past few years, Superintendent Bev Mortimer told a crowd of more than 40 at Wednesday’s Community Needs Forum “working lunch” — but she wasn’t talking just about all the recent movement from one building to another.

“We are not a wealthy district, and we look to the state for funding,” she said. “About three-quarters of what we get is from state aid.”

And that amount per pupil keeps going down, she noted. “Base state aid is supposed to be $4,492 per student; that’s what the law says,” Mortimer explained. But for the current school year, the amount has been cut to less than $3,900 per student. “What the state is doing is taking away from the poor districts — and I don’t think that money is ever coming back.”

So Concordia’s USD 333 has spent the past four or five years “just trying to maintain,” she told the audience gathered for the 22nd Community Needs Forum at the Nazareth Motherhouse. “We can’t operate like we did five or 10 years ago — there just isn’t the money for it.”

Another issue is that enrollment in Concordia’s schools “has declined slowly, over time,” Mortimer said. There are roughly 1,100 students now in kindergarten through 12th-grade.

She said she told her staff, “I can change the walls around you or I can cut people and programs,” explaining, “We knew we had a lot of space sitting empty and costing us money to maintain it. So we knew we could close a building.”

After working with a consultant, district officials decided to consolidate the middle school, junior high and senior high in the building between 10th and 11th streets. By May that plan will be complete: The high school will take up the first floor on the west end of the building, while the junior high will occupy the second floor on that end, and the middle school will fill both floors on the east end (what had been the junior high space).

In its most recent decision, the board last week announced it would move the Concordia After School Program and the Learning Cooperative of North Central Kansas from Lincoln School, 803 Valley St., to the middle school building at 1001 E. Seventh St. and then sell the Lincoln building.

The consolidation will reduce maintenance expenses, she noted, but there are still building issues that need to be addressed.

The high school was built in 1929 and has had four major additions over the years. At its core, though, it remains an 84-year-old building.

At the much newer Concordia Elementary School, “They tell me the air conditioning system was obsolete when they put it in,” Mortimer said. “The building is great, but the air system is not.” Only a new system will eliminate the continuing problems — and expenses — from high humidity and mold within the 17-year-old structure.

“I can only ask my staff to do more with less for so long,” Mortimer said. “And these are the people we’re asking to inspire our kids and keep them in school.”

Part of the way you keep students inspired and in school is through what are called “pathway programs,” Mortimer said — courses of study that lead to certification in specific careers.  She cited the high school welding program as a prime example, noting that all the state-of-the-art equipment was donated to the program and that students can graduate as certified welders.

“There are a lot of hard-working people in this district who really care about these kids,” she said. “When it gets really tough and I need a lift, I can walk through the elementary school and get hugs. It’s their enthusiasm and innocence; they love their school and they like each other. It reminds me that our job is about these kids.”

In a variety of other short reports at Wednesday’s working lunch:

Rita Buurman, newly named interim CEO at Cloud County Health Center, introduces herself at Wednesday’s “working lunch.”

• Rita Buurman, the interim CEO at Cloud County Health Center, said she is concerned that “people here seem to believe they are not at risk of losing local health care.” Buurman, who lives in Sabetha and is a retired hospital administrator, was hired three weeks ago after Cloud County voters turned down a proposal to build a new hospital and then the hospital board sacked CEO Jim Wahlmeier. Buurman said contracts have gone out to bring two new physicians to Concordia — in part to replace Dr. Bonnie Cramer, who has announced she is leaving at the end of May — but that those contracts include a provision for a new medical facility at some point in the near future.

•  Christina Brodie, volunteer coordinator for the Hands Across Our Community program, said the first class in the effort to help local families find their way out of poverty is about halfway through. A new class is scheduled to begin in mid-June and Brodie is seeking families to take part as well as “community coaches” who partner with the families for advice and encouragement. To learn more, contact Brodie at cbrodie@csjkansas.org or 275-2101.

•  Sister Betty Suther invited everyone to the 35th anniversary open house at Manna House of Prayer this Sunday, April 21, from 1 to 4 p.m. The spiritual retreat center is at 323 E. Fifth St. and has welcomed people of all faiths since 1978.

•  Sister Jean Rosemarynoski encouraged participants to sign the 2013 Civility Pledge, which is being circulated to gather signatures for the fourth year. Presented by the Concordia Year of Peace Committee, the pledge asks people to make a commitment to be civil and respectful in their public behavior. In 2012, more than 300 Concordians signed the pledge. Copies of the pledge and signature sheets are available at the Frank Carlson Library and other locations.

The Community Needs Forum grew out of informal lunches with the Sisters of St. Joseph in the fall of 2008. In addition to identifying what participants see as the greatest needs in the community, the meetings have established smaller groups to seek solutions. The quarterly “working lunches” provide on an opportunity for updates on projects and a clearinghouse for new ideas.

The next working lunch is set for Sept. 18 at the Nazareth Motherhouse and you do not have to have attended an earlier session to join the process.

 

 

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