Chesterton Tribune

Duneland Schools may turn to community as funding crisis deepens

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Schools in Indiana can now hold referendums to levy additional property taxes, but it’s too soon to tell if the Duneland Schools will pursue that option to overcome an anticipated shortfall.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer broached the topic of turning to the community in the wake of a proposed 2012 budget that’s expected to result in a general fund shortfall in excess of $1 million. The overall proposed budget is nearly flatlined over this year’s, but that translates to a cut due to revenue losses through the property tax caps and increased insurance and other expenses.

“If you flat line our budget, you cut our funding,” Baer said.

Baer said Duneland may need to turn to the community to address the inevitable program cuts. When asked about the possibility of a school referendum, Baer said after the meeting that whether it’s a referendum or some other option, he believes that the Duneland Schools will act to do what’s best for students.

The school tax levy referendum option allows voters to decide on additional property tax funding for school operating costs, with the extra funds outside the property tax caps. Since the November, 2009 elections, 30 such referenda have been held in Indiana, 14 of which have passed, according to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

As he has done before, Duneland Assistant Superintendent Dave Pruis opened the budget review at Monday’s Duneland School Board meeting with the DLGF status map showing that Indiana counties have made considerable progress with their 2012 tax work.

However, Porter County, along with Lake and LaPorte counties, is still behind, having missed the August 1 statewide deadline for certifying the net assessed values.

With all funds considered, Duneland’s proposed 2012 budget is just over $62 million, a 1.54 percent increase over the advertised amount last year. But the proposed, or advertised, budget is almost always lower than the final budget. This year’s certified budget for Duneland Schools totaled $59.3 million.

The general fund, which covers most operating expenses, is proposed at $36.5 million, considerably lower than the $44 million range in place about five years ago.

The general fund is now funded mainly by the state and not local property taxes. But Baer said the general fund has never been properly funded ever since the state took over the costs.

This year’s general fund was certified at just under $35.9 million. Baer said Duneland has “absolutely no reason” to believe that it will get an increase in state tuition support. He also pointed out that Duneland received federal stimulus funds in the past two years that will help balance the fund this year, but those funds will be gone after this year.

Exactly what the shortfall in the general fund will be remains to be seen, but Baer said he anticipates the figure will be in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million. State funding for the general fund is expected to be about $32.5 million, with the remainder possibly made up by cuts, budget transfers, and use of reserves.

When asked by school board member Ralph Ayres what the general fund realistically should be, Baer said it should be in the $39 to $40 million range, though ideally he would like to see it back at the level it was in 2005 or 2006.

Three other school funds that come mainly from property taxes — debt service, pension, and Capital Projects Fund —are proposed at lower amounts than last year’s advertised figures, with reductions of $108,291, $3,774, and $4,455 respectively.

Pruis said property tax caps are expected to result in a loss of $227,000 this year and about $112,000 next year for Duneland’s debt obligations. The debt funding will need to be made up elsewhere in the school budget.

One fund proposed to see an increase is the bus replacement fund, proposed at $983,070, in order to purchase four additional 66-passenger buses, in addition to the six buses in line for replacement.

The Duneland School Board unanimously agreed to advertise the school budget for a public hearing in two weeks.

Bus Barn Shop

Also Monday, the school board granted approval to seek bids for a new maintenance facility at the Duneland bus barns to house equipment such as mowers and snow plows. The equipment is currently being left outdoors and at various school sites, said Duneland Director of Special Services Mark McKibben.

The building will be a pole barn style with only the office part heated. Funding for the project was included in this year’s CPF. McKibben said he anticipates the bids will come in under $500,000. The bid opening is set for Sept. 28, with the bid award Oct. 3. Construction will be done this fall.

First Day

In his report on the first day of school, Baer said there were only the typical, minor glitches. He thanked parents and staff for making the start of the school year a smooth one. “I think it was a very, very good opening,” he said.

He also noted that the first day enrollment showed a gain of 71 students, unlike last year’s first day when enrollment dropped by 126.

The official count day, which will determine state funding, will be on Sept. 16.


The school made the following teacher appointments:

Tiffany Hawkins will teach kindergarten at Yost and Jackson. A graduate of CHS and Ball State, she previously taught with the Duneland Schools and worked as an aide.

Sue Gore will teach fourth grade at Jackson. A Purdue University graduate, she previously taught at St. Patrick School.

Shane Smith will teach CHS math. A graduate of Indiana Wesleyan, he is also a CHS graduate.

Michelle Olson will teach fifth grade at Liberty Intermediate. A graduate of Purdue Calumet, she has worked as an aide for Duneland.

The following aide positions were appointed: Leslie Trtan, Diane Dunn, Mariann Chapman, Kelly Randazzo, Joanie Garmany, and Toni Biancardi, all at Brummitt; and Dana Lee Cortwright, Westchester Intermediate.

Also, Rachel Nidlelchoff-Henry was appointed as CHS cheer coach. At Chesterton Middle School, the following coaching positions were appointed: Bryan Eaton, assistant B football; Nancy Lee, head 7th grade volleyball; Evan Stiener, Assistant B football; Ashley Gordeneer, 7th grade B volleyball; Kathryn Evans, girls cross country assistant; Carla Sissell, 7th grade boys B coach; and Penny Ballestero, cheer.

The school board also accepted the retirement of Dian Massey as CHS media secretary and the following resignations: Sue Gore, WIS instructional aide; Ashley Jacob, LIS 5th grade teacher; John McCreary, Jackson 4th grade teacher; and Sarah Gaff, CHS math teacher.



Posted 8/30/2011