Friday, October 24, 2014

Elkhart schools face tight budgets in 2014

Posted on Aug. 27, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Elkhart Community Schools leaders continue to face some difficult financial decisions.

Doug Hasler, Elkhart’s executive director of support services, said at the Tuesday evening, Aug. 27, school board meeting that for the first time, he is advising that the school corporation use funds out of its rainy day fund to make up for deficiencies in the budget.

Hasler told the board that the school corporation’s general fund would likely be especially tight in the coming year. About 90 percent of the general fund, which is allotted to schools based on the state’s funding formula, covers employees salaries or wages and benefits. The remainder of the fund covers daily school supplies and some other day-to-day costs.

Administrators are closely monitoring enrollment at schools and where teachers are assigned, said Doug Thorne, Elkhart’s executive director of personnel and legal services. The school board will have access to that information in possibly having to make some decisions next year to do with staffing levels and costs.

“It’s going to be really hard to consider reductions in that fund without affecting people,” Hasler told the board.

School board member Glenn Duncan pointed out that while staffing numbers have held pretty steady since 2009, Elkhart Community Schools has seen a decrease in its general fund of about six percent in that time, so has had to employ the same number of people with less money to provide for them.

Along with helping out the general fund, Hasler told the board that money from the rainy day fund would likely also have to help with the transportation fund, which covers the cost of gas, bus maintenance and drivers’ pay. The transportation fund, like the capital projects fund, has been pressured due to the circuit breaker tax caps the last few years.

“It’s my judgement that we will need the rainy day fund to support the general fund perhaps up to $1 million and in the transportation fund possibly up to $1.5 million,” Hasler said.

He noted that it’s difficult to estimate what transportation costs will total by the end of the year since Elkhart Community Schools implemented a number of transportation changes with this school year.

He also told the board that the school system is not purchasing any new buses this year and that, looking ahead, likely will not next year. Instead the district may actually sell off a few buses to a nearby district. That would mean that the $1,274,817 in the proposed 2014 budget could go into the rainy day fund.

After hearing Hasler’s presentation and some discussion amongst the board at the Tuesday meeting, the school board moved to advertise the 2014 budget. The proposed budget totals $126,569,392.

A public hearing is set for the Sept. 10 school board meeting at the J.C. Rice Educational Services Center, 2720 California Road, Elkhart, while the board will vote on the proposed budget at the Sept. 24 meeting at Feeser Elementary, 26665 C.R. 4, Elkhart. Both school board meetings begin at 7 p.m.

The board also approved the Elkhart Community Schools Action Plan, which includes the school system’s mission, philosophy and a number of goals and intentions for each age group of students. Along other items, the plan encourages school leaders to add a program for kindergarten-age students who are not yet ready for kindergarten, increase the number of summer laboratory schools, develop a one-to-one technology program for the high schools and start an early college high school program, which would give students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree at the same time as they’re earning their high school diploma.