The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 25, 2001 · Page 12
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 12

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Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Wednesday, April 25, 2001
Page:
Page 12
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B4 WEDNESDAY. APRIL 25, 2001 GREAT PLAINS THE SALINA JOURNAL T SOCIAL SERVICES Agencies to protest in Topeka today •Salinans to join InterHab in march around Stateliouse By TANA THOMSON The Salina Journal About 30 Salinans are expected to join more tlian 700 people from around the state today in i Topeka to surround the Statehouse to draw legislators' attention to staff shortages at organizations serving people with disabilities. Those organizations are demanding a $60 million increase in funding — $24 million from the state and $36 million in federal dollars — to increase wages for direct-care workers. • SALINA SCHOOL BOARD InterHab, a Topeka-based organization that represents people with disabilities, will lead the demonstration in hopes of getting the attention of legislators, who return today for their wrap-up session. Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, was in Salina Tuesday as part of a statewide tour to drum up support for the rally and to call attention to the needs of agencies that help the disabled. Laing was confident the Legislature and Gov. Bill Graves have heard their cry for more money "Our programs are the most important programs," he said Tuesday morning at the Occupational Center of Central Kansas, Inc., 1710 W. Schilling. Laing sited a recent study claiming the state reimbursement rate is $60 million under a level that would be "adequate and reasonable." Low wages and long hours are blamed for perpetuating high turnover rates. Over the past eight years, Laing said, direct-care workers' wages have been raised by less than 1 percent a year. Wages ai-e reimbursed at $7.68 an hour. Laing knows the Legislature's current dilemma — dealing with a projected $205 million deficit for the next fiscal year — but he said that is a result of the state's tax policy, not Kansas' economy. And if the funding doesn't come soon, InterHab will "consider other legal alternatives" to getting it. "The Legislature has to come Refinancing bonds could save money By The Salina Journal Refinancing about $14 million of the Salina School District's construction bonds will save taxpayers about $421,000. Greg Vahrenberg, vice president of investment banking at US Bancorp Piper Jaffray, Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday told the Salina School Board if the district takes advantage of current interest rates — about 4.5 percent — the mill levy to pay off the bond issue might never go above 18 mills to retire the bonds. The school board approved the resolution, which starts the process of financing $38.8 million in bonds and refinancing $13.4 million of the bonds that were financed in 1999 at a slightly higher interest rate. The $52.2 million is the last of the bonds to be financed for the district's $99 million worth of construction projects. "Historically, this is a very, very good time for the school (to finance the bonds)," Vahrenberg said. If locked in at the current interest rates, the district will fall below the original projections of about 6 percent. When those projections were made in 1998 dijring the campaign to pass the bond issue, the district promised the levy never would rise above 20 mills. New appraisal system : The board also discussed a new employee appraisal system that a committee of educators, administrators, community members and staff has worked on for the past year and a half It would cost about $27,750 to implement a pilot program for the new appraisal system in the next school year. Jane Botz, the district's director of human resources, said the district wants volunteers to pilot the program. The new system includes several aspects the current system doesn't, including information from parents and teachers. The current appraisal system has been in place since 1992. "The (current) one doesn't reflect the latest research," Botz said. "I believe we know more about good teaching today." Adding tornado shelters Also at Tuesday's meeting. Bob Holgerson, 1649 N. Halstead, asked the board to consider adding shelters or beefing up areas of all the district's school buildings so they could withstand the beating of a tornado. The district looked into this about a year ago and determined it wasn't feasible, said Salina Superintendent Gary Norris. Nor did the district find any company that would guarantee its product would withstand severe weather, he said. "We do believe our buildings are safe," he said. 582 S. 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"How would it feel to not know from one week to the next who would walk through that door (to help you)?" he asked. "The state has continued to low-ball the community organizations.. Retaining our best employees has become harder each year" With a 30 percent turnover rate, OCCK's rate still is half that of the state average for In- terHab-member agencies. But at any given time, OCCK has 20 job openings. Steve Gieber, director of employment services at OCCK, said each year fewer people apply at OCCK, whj.ch yearly has to fill about 90 positions. "There are a lot of them (employees) that pull a lot of hours from this job," Gieber said. "For some of them, it is like having a second job." Gieber said that is because open positions still need to be covered while OCCK searches for more employees. • Reporter Tana Thomson can be reached at 823-6464, Ext. 173, or by e-mail at sjttho?nson@sal journal.com. 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