On May 6, residents will be voting on three school referendums — two for Elkhart and one for Concord.
Schools are asking taxpayers to vote for temporary increases in property taxes to cover some losses that resulted after Indiana capped property taxes.
As the vote looms, people commenting on The Elkhart Truth website still have some questions about why the referendums are needed and what schools could have done to avoid getting into a tough spot financially.
The Elkhart Truth asked administration from both schools to answer some frequently asked questions. Five of those questions and answers are listed below.
Doesn't the school get most of its money from other sources besides property taxes? Can the school use that money for all of its needs?
Wayne Stubbs, superintendent of Concord schools: We get funding directly from the state of Indiana through the state funding formula. The funding formula is designed by the state legislature and funded based on the amount the legislature puts into the state budget. We could use these funds to replace the tax cap losses, but reducing staff to cover $4.2 million would not only change the culture of our community but also have a profound impact on student learning.
Doug Hasler, director of support services for Elkhart schools: A majority of school revenue comes through state funding support, with these funds intended to cover instructional costs. Transportation services and the capitol projects funds are supported primarily by property tax revenue and receive no state financial support. Paying transportation out of the general fund would mean less money to pay staff, which could mean losing some classes or larger class sizes.
Can administrators be paid less or some administration positions be eliminated?
Stubbs: We have been very careful and frugal in order to ensure that funds are prioritized within the classrooms — for work directly with students. According to the most recent state reports available, Concord’s average administrative salary is 167th in the state while our enrollment is the 56th largest and continuing to grow — with over 250 additional students this school year alone.
Hasler: Yes, it is possible to pay administrators less, or to eliminate administrative positions. Administrative positions have been eliminated over the past year. However, this provides little relief for those funds that would be impacted by the referendums, the capitol projects and transportation funds. The capitol projects fund does not pay a single administrator. Transportation administrative and office staff is paid through the transportation fund, but the bulk of this fund’s costs are related to bus driver, fuel and maintenance costs.
Could the school district use the rainy day fund to offset property tax cap losses?
Stubbs: Our current rainy day balance is less than one-half of our annual tax-cap losses, and once it is used, there is no funding source to replenish that emergency fund, which is already far below the recommendation of the state board of accounts.
Hasler: Yes, the rainy day fund could be used for this purpose. If this were done to offset total tax cap losses in 2014, the fund would be depleted in 2015.
Would the school district consider doing an outside audit of its budget?
Stubbs: All public schools are audited by the state board of accounts every two years. These audits are available to the public on the State Board of Accounts’ website.
Hasler: Elkhart Community Schools, and all other public entities in Indiana, are subject to regular audits by the Indiana state board of accounts. With staff employed by the state of Indiana, the State Board of Accounts is already responsible for conducting outside audits of Elkhart Community Schools.
Can the school district just make do with what it has, like many families have done in these hard economic times?
Stubbs: We have made cuts since 2008 when the state funding formula was reduced and extended them further as the property tax caps went into effect. Not only are the tax caps impacting us, but the weaker economy has reduced the value of homes, which has made the property-tax losses even more catastrophic.
Hasler: Elkhart Schools has been making do with less money. The reductions in transportation services and delays in making facility improvements for school safety and necessary repairs are not in the best interests of students. The continued increase in tax cap losses will require even further cost reductions.
Both schools posted The Elkhart Truth's questions, with extended answers, on their websites. You can read them at www.elkhart.k12.in.us/referendum or www.concord.k12.in.us under "District Information" and "Referendum Information."