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Hoping to build on change





Hays USD 489 students returned to school today, but the staff kicked off the year Wednesday with a breakfast and assembly at Hays High School.

Hays USD 489 Board of Education President James Leiker said this was the first time he could remember the district hosting a staff welcome.

BOE Vice President Marty Patterson and board members Lance Bickle and Sarah Rankin also attended.

Leiker focused on this year's theme, "Building on the best," in his speech to the staff.

"We're the best. We're not average," he said. "Let's just go out there and get it done. Let's go out and change some people's lives. Make it better for the kids."

Tammy Wellbrock, Hays Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, provided inspiration with a dash of humor.

Her philosophy is to "look around me and find the joy and see the wonder in all that is out there."

She urged those gathered to "accept life's humbling moments with grace and humor."

Superintendent Dean Katt and Shanna Dinkel, director of curriculum, discussed the district's changes and challenges.

"Change is not easy, but it's inevitable," Katt said. "The biggest asset we have is each and every one of you."

Dinkel named 37 new staff members.

Budget is the district's biggest challenge, Katt said.

Faced with a $1.3 million budget shortfall, 16 certified staff members representing 13.5 full-time equivalent positions were cut, creating larger class sizes.

Six of the teachers cut were rehired.

One unidentified person whose contract was not renewed requested a due-process hearing.

The matter was settled before the hearing date, Bill Jeter, board attorney, said in an email. Though terms of the settlement haven't been released, Katt has stated in open meetings it will cost the district approximately $8,000.

Some staff members were transferred to fill positions of those whose contracts weren't renewed.

"Many others are going to be new to their positions, buildings, so we want to welcome you," Dinkel said.

In addition to teacher cuts and salary freezes, overtime and extended time have been cut, Katt said.

The board voted to add a $150 kindergarten fee and increase materials fees to $160 per student. Activity fees increased to $62 for middle school and $66 for high school students.

Students within a 2.5-mile radius of the student's attendance center no longer qualify for district transportation.

Katt told the group Wednesday district officials will "continue to look at each one of those areas and make sure that we are still providing a quality education for everyone."

"We dealt with the cuts of last year," Leiker said. "Now we're ready to make that turn."

Katt said the district isn't "out of the woods yet."

Last year, 86 percent of the general and supplemental funds was spent on salaries and benefits for all staff, including retiree benefits.

"It's about 88 percent next year," Katt said.

The range Kansas districts spend on salaries and benefits is 61 percent to 86 percent, and the average is 78 percent.

Katt suggests the district set up committees to look at options and find ways to lower costs.

"We're going to move forward," Katt said. "We're going to focus on the future."