Chesterton Tribune

State hits Duneland Schools with $800,000 in new funding cuts

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Funding for Duneland Schools is still plummeting according to the latest figures supplied by the Indiana Department of Government Finance.

Assistant Superintendent Dave Pruis presented the Duneland School Board with figures from the certified 2012 budget order released on Feb. 13 and compared it to what was estimated in September’s advertised budget.

The state will hand out $35,682,954, to Duneland’s general fund – the fund which pays for staff salaries and programs -- more than $800,000 less than what was originally projected in the advertised budget ($36,500,000). Duneland Schools Superintendent Dirk Baer said the state’s new funding formula collected by state sales tax has reduced the general fund by more than $4.5 million.

Pruis said the tuition support distribution from the state based on the average daily membership for this year will be $4,939 per student, a decline from the $4,970 given for each student in 2011, $5,078 in 2010 and $5,228 seen in 2009.

Overall, the school corporation will see a $3.5 million difference between the final figures and what was anticipated in all its funds with its total budget of $58,797,754 compared to the appropriated budget of $62,304,939.

“This is where we are at this particular point in time. It is what it is,” said Pruis.

For this year in funds outside the general fund: Debt Service- $8,793,490; School Pension Debt - $1,598,145; Capital Projects - $8,220,155; Transportation - $3,815,690; Bus Replacement - $687,320. The state reports the total levy to be $20,863,479.

The Capital Projects fund and the Bus Replacement fund, which are generated by property taxes, saw reductions of $2.4 million and $300,000 respectively.

The tax rate for the school district failed once again to meet the levels seen in 2008 when the state legislature initiated the tax rate caps statewide. For 2012, the state budget order rendered a tax rate of .8632, which is .0080 higher than last year but .60 less than the 2008 tax rate, Pruis said.

The district’s total Assessed Value is estimated at $2,416,992,465 this year which is $4.6 million less than for 2011.

Pruis said the $205 million uncovered by the state this past week will not impact Duneland Schools at all because that money is to be given as local income tax money to counties, cities and towns.

Baer said “the real issue now” is to restore money to the general fund. The board approved a referendum at their Feb. 13 meeting that, if passed, would offset the shortfalls by restoring the $4.5 million in state cuts. Voters in the May 8 referendum will be asked whether they approve a tax increase of 22 cents per $100 on their assessed property value.

The board gave unanimous approval for Baer to start discussions with staff members who may be affected if the funding does not come through. Baer said due to contractual obligations, employees are to be notified ahead of time about potential layoffs.

As Baer mentioned previously, to live within the means of the state’s appropriations, the school corporation would see its teaching staff reduced by 20 positions, about 30 percent of clerical staff and in-school aides would be terminated as would 35 percent of co-curricular staff.

“We’re concentrating to maintain our teaching staff and programs,” said Baer.

From the audience, resident Dan Vondrasek inquired if passing the referendum would mean zero layoffs. Baer along with board member Mike Trout said they could not give an absolute yes or no because adjustments may be necessary depending on the number of students enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year, but it is their “intent” to maintain current staff levels.

“If the 22 cents passes and everything else remains constant, there will be no need to lay off anyone,” said Baer.

Vondrasek said he is in favor of the referendum but still had questions for school officials on the reasons behind some of the staff cuts seen in recent years.

Full-day kindergarten

“It’s the best news we’ve gotten in years (from the state),” said Assistant Superintendent Monte Moffett.

The Indiana General Assembly, which cut public education by more than $300 million in 2010, allocated more than $80 million in “re-discovered funds” entirely to fund full-day kindergarten throughout the state.

Duneland has given parents the option of either sending their children to half-day kindergarten or full-day kindergarten, but that will change next year as full-day kindergarten will be the only option.

“This is something we are able to do because the state will fully fund it,” Baer told the board.

All board members said yes to the measure and Duneland schools will now be offering full-day kindergarten free of charge.

Moffett said about half of Duneland kindergartners are currently enrolled in full-day kindergarten and he believes it to be the best option.

“As the amount of information is pushed down to the kindergarten level, it is very important to go to full-day kindergarten,” he said.

Board member Ralph Ayres said the media have reported $80 million to be the figure from the state, but he estimates the actual number is closer to $105 million for full-day kindergarten. According to the bill signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in March, schools will receive a grant of $2,400 per student in 2012-2013.

Baer said he hopes state lawmakers will make the effort to keep the funding past next year. The state will be working on its new budget this year, said Moffett.

Pre-enrollment figures for kindergarten will be tallied up next week and the schools will determine if more teachers or resources are needed.

Reading Buddies

Meanwhile, Yost Elementary Principal Anne Stillman gave the board a presentation on her school’s “Reading Buddies” program which gives students a boost in their comprehension skills by having them read to stuffed animal companions.

The program is supported with donations from Porter County United Way and the Valparaiso University Softball Team.

Susan Harmison, who serves as guidance counselor for Yost and Jackson elementary schools, explained ways she is teaching students how to deal with stress and anxiety. She supplies the schools with “chill out bags” containing “theraputty,” stress balls and calming illustrations.

Also on Monday, Moffett announced the retirements of Barbara Kimmel, who has taught art at Chesterton High School for the past 12 years, and second-grade teacher Susan Tonk, of Bailly Elementary School, who has been with Duneland Schools for 24 years.

The board also gave the nod to a list of textbooks Moffett recommended for the upcoming school year. Courses to receive new books are Family and Consumer Sciences, Business, Industrial Technology and Visual Arts which will utilize iPad technology.

The board will meet next May 7.

 

Posted 4/10/2012