USD 383 to vote on joining battle against February gas bill

AJ Dome, The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.
·3 min read

Apr. 20—Manhattan-Ogden school board members will vote this week on a proposal to join a larger effort from Kansas school districts to battle large energy bills stemming from brutally cold weather in February.

The board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Robinson Education Center. A livestream of the meeting is also available on the USD 383 YouTube channel.

Wednesday's agenda includes a recommendation from administrators to join a coalition of districts across the state to protest what the agenda states as "the extreme escalation in natural gas rates" for February.

At the April 7 board meeting, district officials said they were shocked when they saw USD 383 owed $128,363 for gas following several days of record-breaking cold temperatures in February.

The Mercury reported the six-figure bill makes up 91.5% of the district's $140,000 total allotted budget for natural gas expenses for fiscal year 2021. According to the meeting agenda, for fiscal year 2020 USD 383 officials spent $87,554 total on natural gas services. The district gets its gas service from Symmetry Energy Solutions of Houston, Texas, through a consortium with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

KASB officials are advising school districts within the consortium, including USD 383, not to pay their February gas bills, as the agency has retained a law firm specializing in utility rate settlements to investigate the validity of the amounts being billed to districts. The due date for paying the February bill is May 5, and the agenda indicates attorneys will make a request for a 30-day grace period on due payments.

The law firm hired by KASB as listed in the agenda is Smithyman & Zakoura, Chartered of Overland Park. Lawyers within the firm are working with Symmetry to ensure service is not interrupted while the February bill is being challenged.

Under the coalition agreement, the district is set to pay a maximum fee of $1,650 to KASB to support this legal action.

In other business, board members will review and potentially approve several purchases, including:

— Projectors for the Manhattan High School Little Theater from Cytek Media Systems of Topeka for $16,664 and accompanying electrical work from Economy Electric Inc. of Manhattan for $4,690.

— A van for Information Technology staff for $24,783.

— An updated network backup system from CDW-G of Chicago for $54,718.

— An amendment to the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) of $319,195 for construction projects at Eugene Field Early Learning Center. This amended price accounts for changes made to structural roofing support for the building's storm shelters, and an increase in cost for work on the playground to allow for an underground drainage system to mitigate water collecting on the property.

— An amendment to the GMP for Oliver Brown Elementary of $17,448,044, to account for the construction of a maintenance shed for the school in the amount of $114,761.

— A bid from Blueville Nursery of Manhattan for irrigation and reseeding of the football fields at both Eisenhower and Anthony middle schools at a cost of $59,442.

— Proposals from Mid-Continental Restoration of Fort Scott for masonry repairs at Manhattan High School West Campus C-Hall for $87,572 and Lee Elementary for $32,879.