Eagle Eye on Education: New Albany-Plain Local's culture of accountability includes finances

Rebecca Jenkins
Guest columnist

The 2020 and 2021 school years have been anything but business as usual for New Albany-Plain Local Schools.

The twists and turns of the pandemic create an ever-changing roller-coaster ride requiring us to adjust and adapt daily to meet the academic and developmental needs of more than 5,000 students actively learning in-person and at home. Our faculty, staff, administrators, school board, students and families continue to own their “R” (responses) to create positive outcomes daily despite the disruption of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Rebecca Jenkins is the chief financial officer and treasurer of the New Albany-Plain Local School District.

Beyond the continued challenges to meet the academic and developmental needs of our students, changes to our operational systems and increased expenditures for personal protective equipment and other health and safety protocols are present daily because of COVID-19.

To date, our school district has spent nearly $1 million dollars to meet COVID-19 demands to stay operational. From masks, face shields, gloves, disinfectants, cleaning supplies and equipment to an online-learning platform for students, the district has faced the coronavirus head on.

Although clearly disruptive and challenging, COVID-19 did not stop all the other responsibilities required for continuous improvement and sustainability of our school district.

During the summer, we refurbished sections of playground equipment that were more than 20 years old, replaced deteriorating concrete, leaking original roofs and dysfunctional boilers/HVAC systems, installed security cameras and replaced a school bus to transport students safely.

To say this has been one of the absolutely busiest summers in many years, despite the additional headaches of COVID-19 planning, is an understatement.

By continuing to align our resources to our focus on students first, we have extended the life of our most recent operating levy beyond a decade despite the negative financial impact of COVID-19, which likely will continue for the foreseeable future. These added costs, along with a higher-than-usual health-insurance-premium increase presently pushes us to a negative ending cash balance at the end of fiscal 2025.

Just over three years ago, New Albany-Plain Local voters overwhelmingly supported a five-year levy to partially fund capital improvements and repairs to maintain our school campus facilities and equipment.

With school buildings more than 20 years old, structural repairs and equipment replacement will continue to be required during the next five years, including additional roofs, heating and cooling systems, technology infrastructure, school buses and security upgrades. The 1.25-mill, five-year levy approved in 2017 generates approximately $1.17 million annually and is combined with $1.3 million annually from the general-revenue fund to allow the repairs and replacements to occur when required.

Our community support allows the scheduled repairs and replacements to be made timely. We ensure they are competitively procured and reasonably priced.

The graphic accompanying this column illustrates the scope of work shared with our voters and a project-status update for fiscal accountability.

The New Albany-Plain Local School District has spent approximately $6.8 million on capital repair, replacement and improvement projects in the past three years.

As the graphic illustrates, the district has spent approximately $6.8 million on capital repair, replacement and improvement projects in the past three years. Although the February 2020 capital repair and replacement plan forecasts anticipated capital replacement or repair projects, to be fiscally responsible, the district does not complete them unless determined to be necessary.

Our five-year permanent-improvements levy expires in December 2022. The school board and administration must begin discussing a renewal or replacement levy for this funding using an updated capital repair and replacement plan.

The need for these dollars continues as the campus ages and more repairs and replacements become necessary. We must continue to protect our community’s investment in our school buildings by maintaining them, just like we do our homes.

The board, administration, faculty and staff are committed to creating a culture of accountability that achieves the best academic and developmental outcomes for each student.

Our school district is thankful for our community’s continued partnership and financial support of our schools and its commitment to our students academically, operationally and structurally.

Rebecca Jenkins is the chief financial officer and treasurer of the New Albany-Plain Local School District.