The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 23, 2011

School board OKs payment of nearly $30 million in bills

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin School Board on Tuesday night approved what probably was the largest accounts-payable bill in the history of the school district.

The bulk of the almost $30 million was costs prompted by the May 22 tornado.

“The destruction brought on by the tornado to buildings and furniture and supplies is the largest part of what’s driving that number up,” said Paul Barr, chief financial officer for the school district, in an interview after the meeting.

The accounts payable for the month of July and about half of August amounted to about $29.5 million. Barr said the typical monthly amount is $6 million to $7 million.

“Let’s be thankful we can pay the bill,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said to the board.

The district is using insurance proceeds and Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements to help pay for costs associated with the damage, including construction of temporary schools, leases on temporary sites and equipment purchases.

Barr said after the meeting that the district, because of the tornado destruction, will face some challenges in the coming years with assessed valuation figures. The meeting began with a tax rate hearing at which the board voted to maintain the current levy of $3.31 per $100 assessed valuation for 2011-12.

Barr placed the district’s loss of assessed valuation at about $24 million.

Board members noted that they were able to maintain the current tax rate because of $1.5 million in funding that was provided by the state to offset the anticipated loss of property tax revenue. The levy, for purposes of example, costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $630 per year in school taxes.

In other business:

• Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer reported enrollment numbers. The current enrollment is 7,385, compared with 7,491 in August 2010. The district’s enrollment was 7,785 students in May.

Besendorfer said the enrollment number was higher than officials expected. She attributed the surprise to summer school, the determination of the district in starting school as scheduled, and the ability of the city to clean up relatively quickly.

• Terri Hart, coordinator of curriculum, reported that the district overall did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The district is at Improvement Level 3, meaning it must send letters to parents about the district’s progress and about options of choosing different schools for their students.

Hart told the board that administrators do not believe AYP is the best measure for progress at the schools, and that few districts meet the standards. The district continues to be fully accredited.

“You can’t win,” Huff said. “We’re working really hard. … That’s frustrating.”

• The board approved a new scoreboard for Junge Field. The total costs for removal of the old scoreboard and installation of a new one are about $17,000. Half of the amount is to be paid upfront, and board member Mike Landis is soliciting donations and sponsorships from local businesses to offset the cost.

• The board took action on revising the student drug testing policies, as well as graduation and early graduation requirements. The board voted to align its policies with those of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

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