Manawa considers privatizing school bussing
By Ben Rodgers
The Finance Committee for the Manawa School District is taking steps to adjust the budget to ultimately keep property taxes close to where they currently are.
The issue stems from two building projects done in the district that allowed it to spend outside of the revenue cap, as long as those projects were done to increase energy efficiency.
The first project, a roof replacement, was supposed to be completed in the 2015-16 school year. But due to weather, the project was completed and paid for at the start of 2016-17 school year.
That, coupled with another project that was completed this year, makes it look as if the district has spent roughly $600,000 in one year. These figures then would indicate the equalized state aid portion of the budget would increase, which in turn would decrease the mill rate, but only for one year. The following year, the mill rate would be back up to where it is now.
Lawmakers in Madison are also currently debating the energy efficiency rule that allowed district to exceed the cap in the first place, so there is no guarantee of that coming back next year.
So, by carrying any funds over from this school year, past June 30 – the start of next school year, the district will spread the money out, spend it as needed for new projects, which helps with the energy efficiency program in limbo and keeps the fluctuation of tax levies down.
“In the end it’s the best thing for us,” said Russ Johnson, board member. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
The Finance Committee also discussed selling off it bus operation. The district currently owns and operates 15 buses, which run eight routes.
If the district were to hire a private contractor to run the buses, and sell those it has by June 30, it could generate close to $200,000 that could be applied to this school year, and the above formula to help keep property taxes consistent.
“There is a window of opportunity here where it would actually be beneficial for us to sell,” said Carmen O’Brien, business manager.
When it came to the football field, District Administrator Dr. Melanie Oppor said the two-phase project that was discussed previously to repair the south sideline might not be the best idea.
“One of the suggestions was what if we do something minimal to get us by and put some capital funds aside from this year’s budget for next year and then do it comprehensively,” Oppor said. “Do it all at once, and they think in the long run we will be happier with the results doing it that way.”
One solution brought up for this upcoming season would be to have a tarp on the sideline for the team to stand on. This would however only provide a temporary solution to the drainage and mud issues.
The committee directed Oppor to obtain bids for both the temporary and long-term solution.
The committee did learn that the project increase in health insurance has dropped, according to Mary Basel, senior account executive and partner executive benefits, M3 Insurance, the district’s health insurance consultant.
“Things are much better than we thought,” Basel said. “I had told you to plan on a 20 percent increase, it is coming in at 15.7, at least 4.3 percent better than we thought.”
The consultant pours through the statistics for the current plan, through WEA, and looks at the usage of the plan and what the district is being charged for services.
The areas that were analyzed include: the claim pool, the experience period weight, annual trend, experience credibility and total retention charge.
“When you add all these factors together, they’re coming up with a 15.7 percent increase,” Basel said.
But employees in the district could be using their plans differently in order to save money on the plan as a whole.
“I think we have a lot of missed opportunities, and I spoke to your group about this when we did an in-service meeting because we have things already built into the plan that people could be using that they’re not using,” Basel said.
In a small sample of the 1,665 total claims that were filed in the last period, Basel said there was at least 20 of those where employees could have used a virtual clinic for advice. That could have cost the plan several thousand dollars.
Basel said her group also found nine ER visits that they thought were “completely avoidable.” The average cost of an ER visit is more than $800, so that cost the plan roughly $7,200.
The plan offers an MRI service in Appleton at a discount, which not many employees took advantage of, costing the plan $16,000.
“We just have to educate them more and more and talk to them more and more about why you are seeing a 15 percent increase or 20 or 30 percent like we had last year,” Basel said. “It’s stuff like this where you could be better consumers.”