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Solon district budget back on track

Upgrades: enhanced security planned for middle school

SOLON– Things are looking up for the Solon school district’s budget.
Even though the state has not yet set the allowable growth rate for Iowa schools, it appears the Solon district will be able to lower its tax levy and take on a half-million dollars in summer improvements.
At a meeting Monday, March 11, members of the Solon Community School District (SCSD) Board of Education set an April 8 public hearing date for the $20 million 2013-2014 budget.
The district has been looking at three different scenarios for the budget in preparation for the three likely allowable growth figures– zero percent, two percent and four percent.
Each percentage point of growth allows the district to access approximately $80,000 in funding.
“I’m not hearing anyone say less than two (percent),” Solon Superintendent Sam Miller told the board members.
Under all of the scenarios, the district is expected to reduce its overall levy, as well as take on some substantial summer projects, prepay some long term debt and add some at-risk staff at all three buildings.
The levy for the current fiscal year is $16.95781, and under the scenarios outlined by district business manager Pat Moore Monday night, that levy will decrease by at least 70¢ per $1,000 assessed valuation.
That’s good news for the district, which saw its allowable growth frozen for two of the last three fiscal years.
“The budget’s in good shape,” Miller said Thursday.
It’s been a struggle for many Iowa districts to deal with a sluggish economy and a legislature that continues to hold school district budgets hostage by dragging its feet on allowable growth. Federal aid for teacher retention ran out last June and the Solon district has had to tap its reserve funds, but proactive planning has had the desired effect.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the district will be hiring 2.5 additional teachers to work with at-risk students at the elementary, middle school and high school buildings as part of a new focus on improving literacy, Miller said. He expects the positions to be permanent.
“Everyone wants schools to get better, but it’s really challenging for schools to sustain positions,” he said. Many districts will not commit to hiring additional staff until the state sets the allowable growth rate, and when that decision doesn’t come until May, he noted, it puts pressure on schools to find quality staff.

In addition to boosting staff, the district will look to improve security.
Approximately $125,000 of a proposed $500,000 summer maintenance budget funded by the SCSD Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) will go to video surveillance equipment, much of it at the middle school.
The district’s staff and its administrative team have been working to develop recommendations for comprehensive school security, Miller said.
“The middle school has a lot of blind spots, a lot of areas, a lot of corners, a lot of exits,” Miller said.
The eventual goal is to mimic the types of measures put into place as part of the renovation of Lakeview Elementary.
“Would these just be for external security for when the school was unoccupied, or would they also be available for reviewing bullying incidents or things like that that happen in the hallways?” asked board member Dean Martin.
“Everything,” responded Miller. He related the experience of a building principal before and after video surveillance. “Theft, bullying, break-ins, building security, everything improved significantly. It’s amazing the impact it can have, especially with theft,” he said.
In addition to video cameras, the district wants the ability to know whether a door is open or closed, and to have the ability to lock down all exits with the touch of a button.
“We don’t want to have people running around locking 13 doors, and there’s a price to it,” Miller said.
But that price wasn’t available at the Monday night meeting, the only one on a lengthy list which Miller said the district hopes to complete by the beginning of the school year.
A middle school roofing project estimated at $119,000 will be the other major expenditure for the summer. The middle school is also tabbed to receive a new handicapped chair lift, partitions for the restrooms and lockers and a new ceiling for the girls’ locker room.
Other improvements on the summer list include:
At Lakeview Elementary:
• an expansion of the preschool playground, in cooperation with the PTO;
• an upgrade of the building’s wireless network;
• added storage for the small gymnasium; and
• replacement of the lighting fixtures in the large gymnasium.
At the high school:
• the start of a multiyear carpet replacement plan for the high school hallways; and
• a walk-in freezer.