Thursday, July 30, 2015

Center Schools begin year with positive financial outlook

By Mary Wilson

The Center School Board received a quarterly financial report, summarizing the fiscal year of 2014-2015, at the regular meeting on Monday, July 27. Leading up to the report presented by Director of Business Dr. Michael Weishaar, the board of education has kept an eye on the budget given the current fiscal climate.

“We’ve had a lot happen in the last four or five weeks, good and bad,” said Weishaar.

Near the end of June 2015, the district received notification from Jackson County regarding protests to property taxes of approximately $300,000. For the year, Center School District received a hit of $900,000 total in protests.

“We have begun our talks to find out what we can do, if anything, to forecast this a little better going forward,” said Weishaar. “Some of those protests to taxes have gone back to 2012.”

Despite the nearly-million-dollar hit, the district completed the year at negative $1.1 million, a decrease of $500,000 from the prior year. Coincidentally, the proposal for the 2014-2015 budget was right on target with where the district ended up.

“Keeping in mind, six or seven months ago, we thought we’d be at $1.6 or $1.7 million deficit,” said Weishaar, “the conservative aspect we took all year certainly showed. We could have been under one-million dollars had we not been hit with the protests again.”

With the negative $1.1 million, the district’s reserves began the next fiscal year at 25%. Last month, the board of education approved a budget of negative $380,000.

“We’ve got some challenges and we need to be conservative again,” said Weishaar. “We don’t have any contingency fund built into the protests to taxes, so any that come up this year will come off of that bottom line.”

Weishaar went on to say that he believes the past year was unique in the amount of protests to taxes the district received. To continue the good news, however, the county delivered preliminary assessed valuation for the district of $380 million, $11 million higher than last year and a 3.1% increase.

“I’ve always said, for every million dollar increase, it’s about $55,000,” said Weishaar. “When assessed valuation is down and starts to climb back up, you don’t necessarily gain what you lost when it was down. When it goes up a lot like it did, it forces you to drop your tax rate ceiling.”

With an $11 million increase, the district will see their tax rate dramatically decrease. The final assessed valuation numbers will be received from Jackson County in September. This is the first time in eight years the district has seen an increase in assessed valuation.

“It is time to celebrate. Bottom line, we ended the year with the $500,000 decrease,” said Weishaar. “Kudos to the staff, the teachers, and the directors for keeping an eye on every dollar we spend. We couldn’t have done it without the group effort.”

The board also heard a report from Lorenzo Boyd, Managing Director with Stifel Financial, bond underwriters for the district, regarding their bond financing outlook. The district will continue, with Stifel’s partnership, to look for ways to save on interest in bond financing going forward.

Also at the meeting, Elizabeth Heide, Director of Human Resources and Student Services, presented to the board a new program to help meet the needs of students in the district. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a concept developed by Dr. Tim Lewis, a professor at the University of Missouri, which helps the district to create interventions to increase student success.

“As we analyzed our data last year, we realized we needed to look into how we can reach more kids,” said Heide. “We need to find where the holes are with our kids.”

The district will partner with Dr. Lewis and his team of researchers to begin looking into the data and discovering ways to provide interventions in the learning and behavior patterns of students. There is no charge for the partnership, as Lewis will use the research garnered to grow the program.

The Center School Board meets monthly at Boone Elementary. The next regular meeting will be on Monday, August 24.

Editor’s Note: The Jackson County Advocate is proud to increase our coverage to include Center School District news and sports.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Leech Leaves Lasting Legacy on GHS Sports

by Paul Thompson

When the school year begins anew in August, Andy Leech will assume his new role as the interim assistant principal of Martin City K-8.

The position represents a promotion for the former Grandview High School engineering teacher, so it might be surprising to learn that the move will be somewhat bittersweet for Leech. That’s because after six-plus years as Grandview’s varsity football and boys’ track and field coach, Leech will be stepping down in both capacities. In some ways, he says he’s still getting used to calling himself ‘Mr. Leech.’

"I feel like I need more time to digest. It’s not going to be an easy change losing football," admitted Leech, sitting in the coaches office at Grandview’s athletic fieldhouse. "Don’t get me wrong, I’m really, really excited to be at Martin City. I’m hoping to dive in and just work like crazy, because that’s what I’ll have to do."

The notion of coaching was ingrained into Leech’s mind from a young age. While he has come to love his time coaching the high school’s track and field program – winning five straight state championships certainly helps – he says that football has always been his biggest passion. In fact, Leech claims that his mother still has evidence of his early interest in coaching.

"In second grade, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and then they posted it in the paper," he said. "My mom still has it: ‘Andy Leech, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I had football coach. Not football player, but football coach. My whole life, football has been my number-one love."

Leech would have liked to win more games during his stint as Grandview’s head football coach, but he remains proud of the way he and his staff have been able to send players off to the next level. Several Grandview players have gone on to play Division I college football during his tenure, and the team has had as many as 10 players sign college scholarships in the same season.

"I wish we had done better record-wise, but there’s a lot more to it than just record. It’s really the kids you affect, and watching what they do when they leave the program," said Leech. "That’s the other thing that makes this so hard, is that we’ve got another great group of kids. We’ll probably have 10 kids on signing day again this year."

Of course, Leech has also shepherded a talented group of track and field athletes over the past five years. When invited to a recent C-4 Board of Education meeting to celebrate the track team’s fifth consecutive state championship, superintendent Ralph Teran asked Leech to describe the feeling. Even then, Leech said he had trouble grasping what had happened over the previous five years.

"(Winning) four is unheard of, and there are no words to describe five. It was an amazing effort by all those kids," he said. "It was an amazing run, and it’s not over. I really think they’re going to win it next year. Most of our points are returning, with some great young talent. It could stretch to six or seven pretty easily."

Teaching a group of kids to believe in themselves is often a team effort, and Leech knows that it takes an entire coaching staff to help student-athletes blossom. He mentions the cadre of talented assistant coaches who have helped guide the team’s success, and champions Grandview’s youth track and field programs as a key influence in the team’s long-running success.

"It’s not just me. The staff is all about showing kids their potential," Leech said. "Whether their potential be earning a scholarship, be turning in their assignments and realizing that school matters, or whether their potential is to win state – we’ve had a lot of kids do some amazing things."

While assistant coach Jeremie Picard has been named interim head football coach, no replacement has yet to be announced for the Grandview track and field head coaching job. Leech doubts the district will have much trouble finding a suitable candidate.

"There’s still the track piece, but who wouldn’t want to coach track at Grandview?" said Leech with a laugh. "We’re not going to have any trouble finding someone."

Leech’s appetite for coaching only becomes more apparent as he reminisces about his career. He began as an assistant football coach at Grandview in 1999. But over the years, somehow, he’s added more responsibility to his resume. He picked up a role on the track and field team during his second year teaching, coached middle school and freshman basketball for a handful of years, and continued to move up the coaching ladder. He was named the head track and field coach in 2007, and picked up the football head-coaching duties a couple of years later.

Perhaps his passion is best exemplified by his first year in the Grandview football program. Leech and his wife wed on August 7, 1999. The couple enjoyed just two days of married life before they headed back to Grandview on August 9 so Leech could attend football practice.

"We got up after our wedding day, opened gifts, and then drove to Grandview and got ready for two-a-days the next morning," says Leech. "She has never complained; she’s been fantastic."

Still, after all these years patrolling the sidelines, Leech knew it was time to take a step back, while also taking a step forward. He’s looking forward to facing new trials as an administrator, and he’s excited to join his new teammates at a new school.

"July 15 will be my first day at Martin City," said Leech. "We’ve talked, and I’ve got my list of things to do. It’s extensive, which is good. I’ll dive right in and try to do the best job possible. It’s a new challenge, and that’s really what it’s all about for me."

The new role will also afford Leech more opportunities to keep track of his former players, many of whom are still competing at the college level. His responsibilities to the football program typically consisted of Friday night games followed by early-morning film sessions, so he’s now looking forward to more free Saturdays.

"I didn’t get to nearly as many games as I wanted to when I was coaching. It was always after the season, we’d get two or three weeks," said Leech. Now I’m going to make that trip to Lincoln to see Freedom (Akinmoladun) do his thing, and I’d love to get out to Wyoming to see Ry’one (Winters)."

Having been around so much transcendent talent, Leech will have his hands full if he wants to keep tabs on all his former student-athletes. From national record-holding high jumpers to future NFL quarterbacks, Leech has been around for some impressive moments in Grandview sports history.

"Not too many coaches have seen what I’ve seen over the last 16 years at Grandview High School," said Leech. "A 7’6" high jumper (James White), Romey Reaws winning state and breaking the school record in his last attempt at the pole vault, Dapo (Akinmoladun) running a 13.56 in the 110 meter hurdles at state, Apa (Visinia) pancaking 100 kids in a season, Brandon Kinney and Josh Freeman doing all the things that they did, Maliek and Harvey Kendall; we’ve just had some unbelievable athletes come through. It’s just awesome to be a part of that in any way."

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Smooth Reunion for Grandview's Alumni Jazz Band Concert

by Mary Wilson

In the works for over a year, the Grandview Alumni Big Band performed in concert on Father’s Day, June 21. Alumni from eight states, Canada and South Korea came together to share in the special event.

Just days before the concert, former Grandview band director Garry Anders passed away. The Alumni Big Band was something to which he was deeply committed, and he was a driving force behind its development. Anders’ family designated the Grandview Band Program as a recipient of memorials in his honor.

The Grandview Alumni Big Band consisted of: David Chael (1993), Justin Conklin (2011), Mario Cortez (2007), Michael Herrera (2003), Aryana Nemati-Baghestani (2010), Mike Steffen (1998), Gerald Turner (2010), Grant Wood (1989), Teddy Krulwich (2010), Ryan Peters, Kristopher Williams (2002), James Withers (2007), Matthew Correll (2000), Ron Curtis (2008), Daniel Drummond, Rob Drummond (1991), Timothy Ogutu (2015), Anthony Cooperwood (1989), Ben Merello (1999), Micah Clement (2001), DeAnthony Nelson (2004), Zico Orozco (2000), Jameson Stewart (1998); and was directed by Robert Drummond and Danny Watring.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

City of Grandview Considering Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

By Paul Thompson

The Grandview Board of Aldermen is considering a proposal from KCP&L that would bring electric vehicle charging stations to the city.

Michael Jackson and David Sutphin of KCP&L were invited to the Tuesday, June 2 work session to discuss a potential partnership with the City of Grandview that would provide a handful of public charging stations for the benefit of area residents. KCP&L would install the stations at no cost, but the city would be required to agree to a two-year service contract. During that time, the city would be responsible for paying electricity charges related to the charging stations, a cost estimated at $400 annually per unit.

“We’re trying to put the infrastructure in place, so that hopefully electric vehicles will follow,” said Sutphin. “There are about 1,900 electric vehicles across Kansas and Missouri. It’s kind of a Field of Dreams situation: If you build it, they will come.”

The energy company is hoping to install more than 1,000 charging stations within their coverage area, which includes some 900,000 people. Eventually, KCP&L expects to pass off the electricity costs to consumers, but the company will first need some time to set up and approve a pay-at-the-pump mechanism.

“We’ve asked for two years, because we don’t know how long it will take to hopefully get a tariff in place,” said Sutphin. “We don’t have a payment platform or tariff in place to be able to do that yet.”

Sutphin informed the board that the charging stations installed in Grandview would take 3-4 hours to get a complete charge. While KCP&L knows that it’s unlikely a citizen will gain a full charge while at city-owned properties like The View community center or the John Anderson splash park, Sutphin said the charging stations will help curb “range anxiety” for those who own battery-powered vehicles.

“When you go places, it’s nice to have some place to plug it in to maintain your charge,” he said.

Ward III Alderman Jim Crain conveyed reservations about the proposal, listing already-cramped parking at city facilities such as City Hall, the initial two-year agreement funded by the city, and the lack of electric cars on the roadways as his biggest concerns.

Jackson acknowledged that some companies are moving away from purely electric vehicles, but argued that it isn’t likely to stay that way for long.

“You’re right, they’re not manufacturing right now. Gas prices have come down enough that gas-engine cars are still a big part of their market,” said Jackson. “When it gets back to $3.00, $3.50, then of course people start thinking differently.”

Ward II Alderman Brian Hochstein spoke up in favor of installing charging stations, pointing to Tesla’s recent investments in electric cars as a sign of where transportation is headed in the future.

“Tesla is working on a network that’s going to connect the whole United States,” he said. “I think (supporting) three stations sends a couple of messages. For the costs I’m seeing, I’m all for it.”
The board did not make a decision on the proposal during the work session.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Grandview C-4 Looks Into Facility Usage

By Mary Wilson

The Grandview C-4 School District partnered with Applied Economics to perform a demographic study in order to project future enrollment numbers to determine whether or not Grandview will be at or above capacity.

"We combine these numbers with the current enrollment to see what we need to do, both in the immediate future and in the long term," said Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Ann Cook.

The study has been ongoing for several months, and Rick Brammer and his team from Applied Economics have looked at the growth in the area the district serves, and the presentation at the May 21 school board meeting focused on the district’s facilities in particular. Applied Economics was escorted through every hallway in the district, and shown every available space in each building.

"That way we could see how all of the space is currently being utilized," said Brammer. "I think what we did in those walk-throughs was more important than the demographics. Just to look at how much space we have and how that space is being used was essential."

Current programming was considered in determining whether or not each facility was at recommended capacity levels. Out of community and enrollment projections, Brammer looks at what can be done in terms of facility usage. Part of the study looks at where students in the district are living in comparison to where their in-district school is located, and then determining whether or not those sub-districts need to be shifted to avoid crowding at any particular location.

"We really start with the nuts and bolts," said Brammer. "We start with the individual students and the demographics of all the different geographies that make up the attendance areas."

Each facility was reviewed to determine how many teaching stations are available total, and what is currently being used. Based on class size standards, it was determined that utilization of elementary school space is high, while both middle schools have ample space. Following are recommendations based on the facility study.

At Belvidere, the current utilization rate is eighty-nine percent, with around 40 available seats and 362 students. It was taken into consideration that Belvidere will receive new students in the future from the youth sports village development, though how many and how soon is unknown.

At Butcher-Greene, the current utilization rate is at eighty-nine percent, with about 50 seats available and 394 students. This school is projected to grow by about 80 students over the next 10 years.

Conn-West’s current utilization rate is at eighty-five percent with around 70 seats available and 399 students. This attendance area is not projected to grow beyond program capacity in the projection period. However, some additional increases are expected due to continued stabilization of the housing market.

Martin City’s current utilization rate is at ninety percent with about 45 seats available and 402 students. The attendance area is projected to continue to experience growth, especially later in the projection period. This, in addition to its isolated location and the potential need to relieve over-crowding at Butcher-Greene, may make adding classroom space at Martin City desirable. This could include the addition of a 4 to 6 classroom wing, perhaps to house pre-school and kindergarten, making additional space available for the other grades.

At Meadowmere, the current utilization rate is at ninety-five percent with 459 students, making it the largest and highest-utilized school in the District with only about 30 available seats. However, the attendance area is not projected to experience significant increases in enrollment. It may be desirable to restrict students from outside the attendance area and/or seek to relocate any special education programs there to avoid having to modify the attendance area at this time.

There is ample space at the middle school level with a utilization rate of 65 percent and nearly 500 available seats. The district could add a special program, such as STEM or a language emersion, at Grandview Middle School (with district-wide transportation) to entice more Martin City students to attend Grandview Middle School, making more space for the elementary students there. No changes were recommended at the high school level.

While it was determined that some locations are at capacity currently, it was not recommended to make any significant immediate changes. The district will continue to monitor the demographics of attendance areas and facility usage to determine the best course of action going forward.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Largest All-Turf Soccer Complex in the World Coming to Grandview

by Mary Wilson

The Grandview community will soon see a nearly $300 million project along Highway 150. A much-anticipated all-turf soccer complex, to be located between Byars and Kelley Roads, will be constructed, with games being played as early as August of 2016.
Shane Hackett, executive director of Heartland Soccer, the country’s largest soccer league, said that Heartland Soccer is scheduled to be the main tenant of the complex. The development will consist of 240 acres, currently zoned for residential housing, multi-family housing, commercial and retail.

“This is slated to be fifteen all-turf soccer fields,” said Hackett. “This is the synthetic turf that you can currently see at the Overland Park Complex and Swope Soccer Village.”
Hackett added that the benefit of the turf over grass is that the fields can be operated year-round. All of the fields will be lighted, and teams will have the opportunity to utilize the facility during the week, while games and tournaments will be played on the weekends.

“These fifteen fields will make this the largest all-turf soccer complex in the world,” said Hackett.

The fields, because of their size, can be used for multiple sports despite being soccer fields, including football and lacrosse.

The complex will also include a restaurant, hotel and retail component, catering to families while there. Due to the destination-type of events these soccer tournaments will bring, there will be a variety of eating establishments and retailers, making it a one-stop-shop for visiting families, as well as the Grandview community.
“It’s not uncommon to go and take my daughter to practice and I’m there for 90-minutes waiting, and I think it’d be great to go out and get something to eat or pick up some groceries,” said Hackett. “That’s what is being looked at here. This is truly a destination piece.”

Hackett added that some of the largest soccer tournaments in the nation are held in Kansas City, and this new complex will attract regional and national competitions. The fields themselves have been spoken for, according to Hackett, and leased out seven days per week with use beginning as early as August 1, 2016.

The Grandview community is invited to attend the official announcement for the development on Friday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m. at The View.

“After last week's announcement that Truman Corners is being redeveloped, it is great to inform Grandview residents that this major development is being announced this week,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones. “The northern part of Grandview and the southern part of Grandview are being developed simultaneously. Great things are happening in Grandview.”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hickman Mills Moves on From Blue Cross, Blue Shield

By Paul Thompson

The Hickman Mills C-1 school district has officially become self-insured. During its Thursday, April 23 regular session, the C-1 Board of Education agreed to a five-year deal with the Self-Insurance Pool of Greater Kansas City (SIPGKC) to provide health insurance benefits for district employees. The district previously provided employee health coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City (BCBSKC), which had proposed a 16.2% premium increase for 2015-2016. After negotiations, the increase was reduced to 13.2%, but the figure still wasn’t amenable to staff.

“As superintendent, I felt like the last time I purchased a used car,” said C-1 superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter. “Given the work that we have to do in the district, I don’t think this administration can continue to recommend an arrangement where every two years we’re in a used-car salesman situation.”

Instead of taking the new figures back to his staff, Carpenter reached out to SIPGKC. What he found was that the district could realize an annual liability savings of $781,000 by switching from Blue Cross Blue Shield to a self-insured plan through SIPGKC. The agreement with SIPGKC represents a roughly 4% increase over what the C-1 district paid last year, but is around 12% less expensive than what was originally proposed through BCBSKC for 2015-2016. Plan options will remain roughly equivalent in the self-insured pool, although the Preferred Care PPO will be eliminated.

Mark Whiting, who serves as a consultant for SIPGKC, said that part of SIPGKC’s value derives from the fact that it is a non-profit organization that doesn’t prioritize profits.

“There are definite advantages of being self-funded,” Whiting said. “We have lower premiums, there’s no profit margin built in; we get to lose those things if we’re self-funded.”

SIPGKC’s Paul Kinder, a former superintendent of the Blue Springs district, noted that 69% of all school districts with more than 500 employees choose to self-fund their insurance plans. Kinder further explained some of the perks of joining the self-insured pool.

“The main benefit is volume=leverage,” said Kinder. “Another part that’s really helpful is, if you have a bad year, you could go ahead and do a pay-down as a school district.

“We’re able to reduce the ACA fees,” he added. “We’re talking about a 4.3% reduction right now.”
Board member Karry Palmer asked if any services would be disrupted because of the switch.

“There’ll be some change, but it will be very minimal,” answered Whiting. “The access is fabulous, and all the hospitals are involved.”

With the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year fast-approaching, Carpenter asked to board to vote on the proposal immediately.

“Our employees know that current policies that are put forth are becoming unaffordable for the district,” he said. “We’d like to have action on this tonight, so that we can get our open enrollment going.”

The board ultimately voted unanimously to join the self-insured pool, while at least one wondered how they could become eligible.

“So they’ll be able to go to any hospital that’s in their area?” asked board member Bonnaye Mims. “Okay, how can I get in that plan?”