Matt Drake

The numbers for Kingston Community Schools for this school year aren’t good.

KINGSTON — The numbers for Kingston Community Schools for this school year aren’t good. The board received a revised 2022-23 budget at its session on Jan. 23 and it reflects a bit of red ink. That ink – and its color — was expected, however. The budget now expects to take in $7,975,797 in revenues, with $8,533,675 in expenses, leaving the district spending $557,878 out of its savings. That was a plan, Superintendent Matt Drake said.

“We knew that was happening,” he said. “We had a fund balance that was over 20 percent (of the district’s annual budget) and that was inappropriate. When we get to provide for students and staff, we felt we needed to spend some of that money down.” Just about $300,000 of the shortfall is due to lost enrollment. The district had planned to lose 12-15 students from its 2021-22 enrollment, but actually lost an additional 34 more students. The district has 577 students now after being at 620 students last spring.

Drake said that loss in enrollment was a shock to him and the two principals – Justin Diegel at the elementary school and Mike Seaman at the high school — until they started looking at who had left the district. The trio then saw the pattern in families moving away and other changes. Despite taking that much out of its savings this year, Drake said the district still will have $1.7 million, or about 19.4 percent of the annual budget, in the bank.

The board also had a special meeting on Jan. 18 to discuss goal-setting and strategic planning. When the district hosted this process in 2015, it led to three attempts at bond millages, with the ones for $6.8 million and $5.4 million failing in 2016, and one for $4.8 million passing in 2017. The money started coming in in 2018 and resulted in a number of improvements at both schools over the next three years.

“We do have an opportunity to do a zero-mill increase,” Drake said, “and get a little bit more money — $2.2 million if we go in August of 2023, if we waited and went in another six months we pump that up to $2.8 million and if we waited until 2025 we could maybe get $3.6 million without raising taxes.”

The money would be created by increases in property values and lowered debt for the current bonds. “You just need to generate less revenue as the property values go up,” Drake said. If the board waits until 2025, he said, the charge to property owners still would go down a little in addition to raising the added income for the district.

No decisions were made at the Jan. 18 session. Any further action on goal setting was tabled until the board’s February session. The special session was just a discussion of some of the district’s options.“I’m sure down the road there will be more conversations on what we need, what things we believe we want and how it would be best to manage those projects,” Drake said.

He felt the community session was positive. “It is really important to let everybody have a voice in building vision of the future,” Drake said. “It’s not my vision and it is not the board’s vision, it is the collective vision.” The board also:

■ Gave Drake an effective rating for his 84 percent score on the 45-page evaluation form. He was judged for his governance and board relations, community relations, staff relations, business and finance, instructional leadership, professional practices and student progress. 

■ Reelected all of the current leaders – president Dave Kolacz, vice president Lane Walker, secretary Jeff Long and treasurer Kristen Misener – and kept meetings at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month except for March and December, when the meetings move back one week.

■ Retained Thrun Law Firm of East Lansing as its legal counsel.

■ Had a closed session to discuss a student discipline issue then, in open session, expelled the student indefinitely, with an option to apply for re-admission once certain criteria were met. Regardless, the student is expelled at least through the end of the current school year.

■ Moved Sheila Machota, who was working as a Title I reading and interventions staff member, to teach first grade after Cassy Callahan resigned from her first-grade teaching position to take a job in the private sector.

■ Is looking to replace all of the fluorescent bulbs at the elementary school with light-emitting diodes. It would cost about $25,000 to upgrade the fixtures and $45,000 to $50,000 to replace the fixtures. That would include motion-sensitive lights that would shut off after a lack of activity in any given area. All of the high school already has been converted to LEDs, as well as the hallways and offices at the elementary school. “We still have a lot of bulbs yet to go over there,” Drake said.

■ Will work with Positive Behavior Supports Corp. of Stuart, Florida, on training employees to be behavior technicians. The program will help staff deal with the most challenging students in the district. The work started when the students returned from Christmas break.

■ Honored two students – Ethan Green and Ethan Harrington – for winning a Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) regional and $1,500 scholarships in Sports Marketing Team Decision-Making and a third student – Christopher Cumper – for winning a DECA regional competition in business finance.

■ Discovered some cracks in the cinder blocks in the hallways at the elementary school and the gym, so a mason was brought in to make the necessary repairs.

■ Hired Sarah Fox as a full-time elementary teacher. She had been working at the district as a student teacher but has earned her teaching certificate and now is available to take over a vacant position. 

■ Moved elementary administrative assistant Carol Nicol to full-time status.