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Duneland School budget hearing set for September 10

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The proposed Duneland Schools budget for 2013 is ready for public view after meeting with approval from the School Board at Monday’s special meeting.

The budget will be advertised in tomorrow’s Chesterton Tribune as a legal notice. A public hearing will take place at a special board meeting on Monday, Sept. 10 at the School Administration Center.

At last night’s meeting, Assistant Superintendent David Pruis said the budgets shown to the board on Aug. 13 remained the same overall but the school corporation received word last week from the Department of Local Government Finance that estimates have shown a slight increase on how much could be raised in the levy.

The school will advertise its 2013 General Fund at $34,380,000. For comparison, the 2012 budget had been advertised at $36,500,000 and later had been certified at $35,682,954 by the DLGF. The fund is the largest the school uses to fund its daily operations, teacher salaries and insurance.

A total of all budgets (General, Capital Projects, Bus Replacement, Transportation, Debt Service, Pension Debt Services) comes to $63,525,458, more than $1.2 million over what was advertised for 2012.

To give a breakdown: the schools’ debt service budget is expected to be $7.9 million (including an additional $57,000 that had been reimbursed from textbook adoptions and the school lunch program); the pension debt service bond fund of $1.6 million which will be paid off in full by 2014 ($923,000 less than this year); the Capital Projects fund of $10.4 million (about $200,000 less than this year); the Transportation fund of $3.8 million (up more than $50,000 this year due to a 1.3 percent growth factor on a capped fund); and the Bus Replacement Fund of approximately $650,000 (about $40,000 less than this year).

The Bus fund, which is a capped fund, does have a 2.8 percent growth quotient and is expected to see amounts above $700,000 in the next two years. With the funds set for this year, the schools will purchase six replacement buses and one special purpose bus.

Director of School Transportation Jim Bonfield advised that the growing fuel costs are likely to overreach what has been appropriated in the Transportation fund.

“Everybody is charging us fuel surcharges,” he said. Pruis added he has received “a boatload” of invoices on fuel which he will have to work out with the new director of support services.

Now that the state requires that schools operate on a 12-year bus replacement plan rather than a 10-year plan, issues of rusting was another concern raised by Bonfield.

Pruis said the schools will also see an increase its utility costs, the first time since 2007.

After giving Pruis permission to draft a resolution, the board agreed unanimously to alter how the school will neutralize its pension debt fund while at the same time giving more flexibility in its Capital Projects fund.

Approximately $1.6 million will be taken from Capital Projects to neutralize pension debt, but now the state will allow school districts to use funds from the school bus replacement fund. Starting next year, only 25 percent of the 1.6 million will be neutralized, followed by 50 percent in 2014, until it reaches 100 percent in 2016.

Pruis said with the funds available the corporation will be able to complete a few of its renovation projects a bit earlier than planned, even by a few years. The project needing the most attention is roof repair at Liberty schools. Further implementation of technology programs is another goal.

Referendum funds to be used

Line items in the General Fund “will have to be flatlined,” Pruis said, but the school referendum should give enough funding, $4.8 million, to maintain current curriculum.

However, Pruis said the referendum money will not be available until next summer, meaning the school corporation will have to tighten its belt all through the 2012-2013 school year.

“We will do everything that we can with the resources we have to maintain our current staffing levels and programs in our schools,” Pruis said. “There’s no way around it.”

The Citizen Review Committee for the referendum funds – which is appointed by the superintendent – met with Pruis and Schools Superintendent Dirk Baer last week and recommended that in order to keep the schools running as they are the corporation will need to utilize the full 22 cents per $100 of assessed value approved by that referendum for 2013.

The committee consists of Christopher Craig of Liberty Twp., Stephen Turner of Jackson Twp., and David Perry of Chesterton. It meets with school administrators once or twice during the budgeting cycle, Baer said.

Pruis read comments from the committee to the school board. “We’re proud of what we have and we will do everything we can to keep it,” Pruis said. “This is all about our students. It’s protecting their education.”

The committee urged school officials to use funds responsibly and said that using the full 22 cents “would be the most responsible thing to do.”

Board Vice-President Mike Trout agreed.

“(The referendum) clearly wasn’t a mandate but the community by and large allowed us to do this. We shall do our due diligence. I’m sure we will be responsible and we should be responsible,” he said.

Pruis said if not for the referendum, the board on Monday would have been looking to cut $4 million out of the General Fund.

“That would be devastating,” he said.

Baer had estimated that 26 positions would have been axed had the referendum failed.

The $4.8 million is based on the preliminary assessed valuation figures received from the county assessor’s office last month. Originally it was thought the AV for Duneland might slip from $2.5 billion to $2.1 billion, but the latest figures indicate the decline is not that steep. The AV is now expected to be closer to $2.4 billion.

Meeting dates set

In other scheduling matters, the board under a request from Baer will switch its November meeting date to Tuesday, Nov. 13. The next regular board meeting will be held on Oct. 1., which is also when the board plans to adopt the 2013 budget.

 

Posted 8/28/2012