NEW BUFFALO — Discussion of the 2019 audit report for the New Buffalo Area Schools brought good news not only for the school board and administration, but also for local taxpayers, during the Monday, Sept. 23, meeting.
Describing the district as in healthy financial condition, Alex Schaeffer, partner with Kruggel Lawton & Co., reported the district ended the year with a $3.9 million general fund balance, about $200,000 above last year, representing 3.5 months of operating expenses. The major source of revenue continues to be local property taxes which totaled almost $14 million of the district’s $15.8 million total revenues. Eighty one percent of the total general fund expenses of $13.5 million went to salaries and benefits.
The good news for taxpayers came when Superintendent Jeff Leslie said “in May, this school will be paid for.” He was referring to the final payment in May 2020 on the bonds which were issued and refinanced over the years to pay for the middle/high school building. As a result, residents will no longer see the two school debt line items on their property tax bills.
Schaeffer complimented the staff on the accuracy and completeness of their records and singled-out Business Manager Dan Coffman for his leadership over the years. Leslie added to the praise, noting how Coffman has given him “tremendous” help since he started as the district’s new superintendent. Coffman is retiring on Sept. 30, which he says he scheduled to coincide with the completion of this year’s audit. He is being replaced by former school board member Pano Arvanitis.
Leslie also thanked Berrien County Treasurer Brett Witkowski and his staff for their diligence in monitoring and collecting the full amount of tax dollars from second homeowners.
At the start of the meeting, resident Denise Churchill cited what she considered would be the detrimental tax impact and costs from an influx of new students caused by a proposed manufactured home development in New Buffalo Township. While aware that the area needs more affordable house, she said she did not think a high-density development of this kind was the right answer. She urged board members to attend the Planning Commission hearing at the township hall on a request for a Planned Unit Development at 19701 Kluver Rd. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at 6:30 p.m.
The main presentation of the evening was given by Athletic Director Matt Johnson who said the 69 percent student athlete participation rate was up slightly despite declining enrollment. He said the almost event split between 60 girl participants and 62 boys was proof that Title IX was alive and living at New Buffalo Area Schools.
Johnson broke the participation down further by noting that 43 percent were one-sport student athletes, 33 percent two-sport and 24 percent three-sport athletes. He said this was “amazing” considering all the other extracurricular activities offered in the district.
In addition to his list of individual and team accomplishments, Johnson noted NBAS was again recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for exemplary sportsmanship conduct by coaches and players. He said the department is committed to building character and good citizens in its student athletes.
Johnson pointed out the new equipment and features during 2019 included a track and cross country timing system, a new basketball shooting machine, a new uniform for the Bison mascot to replace the one that had been around when he was in high school, participation in the eight-man football team league, a four-girl equestrian club sport and co-op swim program based in Bridgman.
As goals for the coming year, Johnson listed: building the school/community relationship; increasing Bison Booster membership and visibility in recognition of all they do to support the teams; increase student and parent volunteering, and continue to support student athletes in reaching their student and academic goals.
Johnson also recognized new coaches added during the year, including: girls basketball varsity Scott Syme and junior varsity Joe Corkran; girls cross country Kristin Fenton; middle school football Adam Lijewski, high school cheer coach Patricia Daniel and middle school fall cheer coach Crystal Maciejewski.
Following his presentation, Trustee Patricia Newton thanked Johnson for including Trevor LaBerge, a New Buffalo High School graduate and one of her former students. Johnson said LaBerge was his “go-to” person in several areas when he needed help with such things as the timing clock or even some particular sport ruling.
During his report, Leslie noted the steps being taken to protect against the dangerous mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalitis including the use of repellent spray, clearing all standing water and drains, moving up the start time for football games and following other protective best practices.
In example of governments working together, Leslie reported that the New Buffalo City Council ceded back to the district two properties along Clay Street for the school’s proposed STEAM building and the pickle ball courts and vacated the streets along Clay Street on which the Transportation Building and pickle ball courts sit.
In other business:
-- the board approved a $500 invoice from Roger’s Wrecker service for two towings. Trustee Roget Lijewski, owner of the business, and Trustees Lisa Werner and Heather Black were absent;
-- the teachers union invited the board to meet with them to discuss mutual interests in the teachers lounge on Oct. 18; and
-- Trustee Frank Magro complemented the Food Service Department and its director Patty Iazzetto on its “outstanding” new pulled pork sandwich.