Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Several factors tighten schools’ budgets

Posted on Sept. 4, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

As local assessed valuations and enrollment numbers have declined, Elkhart Community Schools budget has grown tighter.

Like several local school districts, Elkhart has been working with Energy Education Inc. to save thousands of dollars in energy costs. Looking ahead to 2013, school officials aren’t planning on any major construction projects and may, at some point, have to look at further changing how it buses students to schools.

They are all efforts to maintain programs and facilities with the 2013 budget forecast looking somber.

Different funds in a school corporation’s budget are filled in different ways, but all have some restraints.

A school corporation’s general fund covers day-to-day expenses, including employee salaries, and is funded by the state. The amount a school receives in that fund is largely dependent on enrollment at a school.

“You grow in enrollment, you grow in your general fund,” Elkhart Community Schools support services executive director Doug Hasler said. If enrollment decreases, so does a school corporation’s general fund. “That’s what it’s been doing to us for the past three or four years.”

If enrollment decreases by 200 students, Hasler explained, you can’t just eliminate a few teachers or decrease other resources because those student losses are throughout different grades and in different buildings.

Though funding for those students drops, schools are “still locked into a fixed cost structure that isn’t changing with modest decreases in student enrollment.”

It’s too early to predict if that trend will continue for Elkhart or what numbers will look like for other schools this year. Schools’ official enrollment count day is Sept. 14.

School budgets’ other funds are financed by local property taxes, which bring other limits to schools’ budgets. Some of those funds are the transportation operating fund, the bus replacement fund, which covers the purchase of new buses, and the capital projects fund, which covers construction and maintenance projects.

“We have been experiencing a declining assessment in our school district,” Hasler told the school board a week ago. “That almost always results in an increase of the tax rates to maintain incoming funds.”

The “circuit breaker” tax cap on property taxes works, though, so that even as the tax rate goes up, the circuit breaker cuts off what people need to pay, Hasler said. Elkhart has lost $4.8 million because of the tax cap this year.

In order to limit expenses to the capital project fund, “we’re really doing as little as possible,” he said. Elkhart’s buildings are in fairly good shape, so don’t require much maintenance at this point. The 2013 proposed budget does allocate funds for a few school buildings’ roofing projects.

Hasler said, depending on what the school corporation’s final budget looks like, school officials may need to eventually look at altering its busing plans.

Elkhart Community Schools expanded its walk zones a few years ago to save money, and Hasler said they may need to look again at transportation options. That could mean creating a three-tiered system, where each school would have one of three different start times. That would allow enough time for a smaller number of buses to transport the same number of kids.

Elkhart County’s seven public school districts have established their proposed 2013 budgets. These won’t be the exact amounts schools will receive, though.

Funds in a school corporation’s advertised budget can not increase, but can decrease depending on the proposed budgets of other local taxing units, including counties, townships, cities and libraries.

Following are advertised budgets from Elkhart County’s seven public school corporations, along with important dates for the budget’s adoption. The following tax rates are listed per $100 of assessed valuation. The tax rates are based on estimated assessed valuations, so the rates are also estimates. For more information, contact that school corporation’s administration office.

Baugo

General fund: $12,250,425

Debt service fund: $3,569,071

Capital projects fund: $2,030,839

Transportation fund: $1,021,750

Bus replacement fund: $140,330

Pension bond fund: $189,931

Rainy day fund: $125,000

Total advertised budget: $19,327,346

Proposed tax rate: $2.1051

Baugo will hold its public hearing on the 2013 budget on Sept. 10. The board will take action on the budget at its Oct. 8 meeting.

Concord

General fund: $31,700,000

Debt service fund: $9,881,520

Capital projects fund: $4,964,100

Transportation fund: $2,146,520

Bus replacement fund: $550,000

Pension bond fund: $382,387

Rainy Day fund: $300,000

Total advertised budget: $49,924,527

Advertised tax rate: $2.1660

The Concord School Board will hold the public hearing for its advertised 2013 budget on Sept. 17 meeting at 7 p.m. at East Side Elementary, and take action on the budget during the Oct. 1 school board meeting at 4 p.m. at South Side Elementary.

Elkhart

General fund: $87,633,750

Debt service fund: $15,528,106

Capital projects fund: $14,203,553

Transportation fund: $7.531,200

Bus replacement fund: $1,329,582

Pension bond fund: $2,951,397

Total advertised budget: $129,177,588

Total anticipated budget: $124,442,835

Advertised tax rate: $1.9073

Anticipated tax rate: $1.5316

The Elkhart School Board will have the public hearing for the proposed 2013 budget on Sept. 11 at its 7 p.m. meeting in the administration center. The board is set to adopt the budget on Sept. 25. That meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Eastwood Elementary.

Fairfield

General fund: $14,380,549

Debt service fund: $2,562,684

Capital projects fund: $3,156,555

Transportation fund: $1,437,611

Bus replacement fund: $285,000

State general fund loan repayment: $76,108

Rainy day fund: $400,000

Total advertised budget: $22,298,507

Proposed tax rate: $1.5130

Fairfield’s school board held a public hearing Aug. 23 and will consider the proposed 2013 budget’s adoption at its 7 p.m. meeting at the administration center Sept. 13 during the 7 p.m. meeting at the administration building.

Goshen

General fund: $45,590,401

Debt service fund: $10,178,677

Capital projects fund: $7,268,541

Transportation fund: $2,720,360

Bus replacement fund: $921,960

Pension bond fund: $770,215

Rainy day fund: $210,000

Total advertised budget: $67,660,154

Proposed tax rate: $2.5159

Anticipated tax rate: $1.5708

Goshen will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2013 budget at its Sept. 25 school board meeting at 6 p.m. at the administration building. The school board is set to adopt the budget on Oct. 22 at its 6 p.m. meeting, also at Model Elementary.

Middlebury

General fund: $27,134,836

Debt service fund: $7,359,100

Capital projects fund: $4,147,494

Transportation fund: $2,467,165

Bus replacement fund: $413,095

Pension bond fund: $0

Total advertised budget: $41,521,690

Total Anticipated budget: $41,521,690

Proposed tax rate: $1.6839

Anticipated tax rate: $1.2353

Middlebury held its public hearing for the proposed 2013 budget on Aug. 21. The board’s adoption of the budget is set for Sept. 4 at the school board’s 4 p.m. meeting in the administration center.

Wa-Nee

General fund: $21,981,729

Debt service fund: $4,785,994

Capital projects fund: $4,531,099

Transportation fund: $2,193,750

Bus replacement fund: $411,000

Pension bond fund: $318,454

Rainy day: $10,000

Total advertised budget: $32,232,026

Proposed tax rate: Wa-Nee was not able to provide a tax rate at this time.

Wa-Nee’s school board will host its public hearing on the 2013 budget Sept. 10 at its 6:30 p.m. board meeting in the administration center and is set to adopt the budget at its Sept. 26 board meeting. That meeting will also be at 6:30 a.m. at the administration center.