Chesterton Tribune

Duneland Schools bracing for revenue shortfall

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By VICKI URBANIK

Property tax caps, rising insurance costs, state cuts and assessed value uncertainty are all factors playing a role in the Duneland School Corporation’s 2012 budget – and the result is far from positive.

In its ongoing review of Duneland’s 2012 budget, the Duneland School Board on Tuesday heard a largely grim report, with Assistant Superintendent Dave Pruis estimating a revenue shortfall this year and next of about $3 million, which will have to be made up by tapping into reserves and potentially painful cuts.

“We’ll be short on revenue for 2011. We’ll be short on revenue for 2012,” he said.

The school’s budget is being hit on several different fronts. For one, property tax caps are estimated to cut funding for the Duneland Schools this year by $447,791. But because $227,403 of that is for debt that must be paid, Duneland will have to recover that amount by dipping into other funds.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer said the only way to escape cuts from the tax caps is for Duneland to grow its assessed value. But this is difficult to do, he said, when other taxing units are proposing tax abatements and Tax Increment Financing districts, both of which deprive the schools and other taxing units of additional assessed value that can help cut the tax rate.

It’s not yet known what Duneland’s AV will be next year. As he has done in previous budget years, Pruis opened his budget presentation by displaying the latest status map from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. Though Porter County is further along in its tax work than in previous years, Pruis pointed out that the county is behind schedule in setting the net AVs, which were due August 1.

Duneland Business Manager Bonnie Gaston said this year’s annual report shows that Duneland’s AV fell about $126 million, a drop that Baer said is surprising.

Another budgetary factor affecting Duneland’s budget is the rising costs of insurance. The school corporation pays the employees’ share toward the Public Employee Retirement Fund and will see an overall, increase from 11.5 percent per employee to 12.5 percent.

Regardless of any pay raises, “these costs just go up,” Pruis said.

Coupled with increases in other insurance, such as casualty and property insurance, just about the entire $600,000 increase proposed for the general fund will be spent on insurance, leaving little to no wiggle room for other expenses.

In fact, Baer noted that this year’s total school corporation budget is at 2009 levels, and that the school general fund for 2012, proposed at $36.5 million, is lower than it was in 2006.

The school’s largest fund, the general fund, comes primarily from the state instead of local property taxes. This year, the general fund was certified at $35.9 million. Duneland has already received notice from the DLGF that it should expect state support next year to total $32.5 million, with Duneland making up the remainder with other miscellaneous funding sources.

With all funds totaled, Duneland’s proposed budget is just over $60 million, broken down as: General fund, $36.5 million; Capital Projects Fund, $10.6 million; transportation, $3 million; bus replacement, $606,000; pension bond, $1.6 million, and debt service, $8.7 million.

The total school corporation budget this year is $59.3 million.

Pruis said Duneland has never spent down all of its appropriations and that it won’t start to do so now. But the reality is that in the absence of increases from the state or elsewhere, Duneland will be tapping more into its reserves and continuing to cut.

He pointed out that in Duneland’s annual financial report, to be published this week, the total expenditures have been greater than revenue – a trend that he expects will continue.

“Making it work has become more and more of a challenge,” Pruis said.

School board member Ralph Ayres noted that other local government units have sources of funding not available to the schools, such as casino and income tax revenues, and that many people may think those funds are also available to schools.

School board member Michael Trout said that over the last several years, Duneland has made significant cuts, but “the public doesn’t know it.” He was referring to largely internal budgetary moves that saved funding without significantly scaling back programs.

If there is a bright spot about the school budget, it was expressed from the audience. Former school board member John Marshall said the school administration and school board should be commended for effectively managing the school debt. As reported by Gaston, the $3.4 million outstanding bond obligation stemming from the Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy and state loan will be paid off entirely within the next two years and another $5.8 million bond will be paid off in 2018. Marshall said it’s encouraging to see that large amount of debt coming off the books.

The Duneland School Board will continue its budget review at its next meeting, August 29. The budget will then be adopted in early October.

Athletic Report

In a report before the school board, Athletic Director Garry Nallenweg outlined the successful year that Duneland athletes have had.

Among the accomplishments is that CHS is the only Indiana high school to have had a state Mental Attitude Award winner in three of the last four years. Athletes brought home seven IHSAA sectional championships and four DAC championships, with 11 teams represented at the IHSAA finals.

Further, of the 638 high school athletes, 52 percent maintained at least a 3.5 GPA throughout the year. “That’s phenomenal,” Nallenweg said.

He and Duneland Director of Special Services Mark McKibben also gave a report on the artificial turf project at the CHS football field. The new drainage tiles have been laid and grading has taken place. The turf “carpet” is expected to arrive any day.

As anticipated, the new field is on track to be in place and ready to use by the first football game, Nallengweg said.

School Start Up

Baer reminded everyone that the first day of school is coming up, August 24, with teachers returning to work two days before.

He urged the community to be mindful that Duneland students will soon be out and about and to use caution when driving.

When school does reopen, Westchester Intermediate will have a renovated entryway. McKibben said the renovation is proceeding nicely, and that the improvements will be significant for the nursing and counseling staff.

Personnel

The school board approved the following staff appointments:

Courtney Comers will be a multi-age teacher at Yost. A Morehead State University graduate, she taught for three years in Kentucky before returning to Indiana to work as an aide in the LaPorte and Duneland schools.

Michelle Mercon will teach kindergarten at Yost and Brummitt Elementary. An Indiana University graduate who obtained her teacher certificate from Calumet College, she worked as an aide last year at Yost.

Jordan Bennett, a graduate of Ball State, will teach math at CHS. This will be her first teaching assignment.

Doug Adams will be the new seventh grade guidance counselor at Chesterton Middle School. He served as guidance counselor at Frankfort High School for a year. He holds a bachelors and a master’s from Butler University.

Chris Smith will teach second grade at Liberty Elementary. A graduate of Calumet College, he worked as a long-term substitute at Liberty Elementary while completing his college coursework in elementary education. He holds a bachelor’s in sports management from Ohio Dominican University, where he was a star baseball player.

Mark Peterson will teach science at CHS. He has been a Portage High School teacher for the last four years and also was the head football coach at Portage and at Bishop Noll. He attended Valparaiso University for graduate studies.

Also, Kelly Gaston was hired as an instructional aide at Westchester Intermediate.

The following resignations were accepted: Ted Delariva, CMS guidance counselor; Laura Duda, Yost first grade; Dan Kinsey, CHS math; and Kelly Clark, CHS science. Also, Brooke Sutter, CMS art teacher, was granted a month child care leave.

 

 

Posted 8/10/2011