Chesterton Tribune

Duneland School Board bracing for state cuts

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By VICKI URBANIK

Duneland School Corporation’s proposed 2012 budget may represent an unfortunate first: It may be the first budget for which school officials don’t know for sure if the revenues will be there to support it.

That was the characterization of Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer during a special school board meeting Monday, at which the school board culminated its review of the 2012 budget before final adoption, set for Oct. 3.

With all funds considered, the proposed Duneland budget totals $62.3 million, compared to the final $59.3 million budget for this year. The budget totals were advertised in a legal notice in the Chesterton Tribune on August 31 and Sept. 7.

Of the six different funds, the one that prompted the most attention was the general fund, which is now predominantly funded through state sales and income taxes, instead of local property taxes. The 2012 general fund is proposed at $36.5 million, just slightly above this year’s $35.8 million.

Exactly what the general fund will end up at remains to be seen. Duneland Assistant Superintendent David Pruis said Duneland expects the general fund to be flatlined or possibly even decreased. And faced with increases in insurance and employee retirement costs, Duneland is bracing for the possibility that the general fund will be short again next year, just as it was this year by about $1.2 to $1.4 million.

He noted that about 86 percent of the general fund is already committed to employee wages.

“The funding cliff, as they say, is here,” Pruis said.

Baer said the funding problems facing schools statewide largely stem from the state takeover of the general funds.

“We have not been funded 100 percent since the state took over it,” Baer said, noting that at the same time, the state reportedly has a $1 billion cash surplus.

School board president Janice Custer said it’s relatively easy to brag about surpluses if the state is holding back on funding its obligations.

Baer urged the public to contact their state lawmakers to address the funding shortfalls facing Duneland and all other public schools. He noted that Duneland currently has 21 fewer certified staff members than just two years ago, yet the enrollment continues to be about the same.

Another fund that prompted discussion Monday was the bus replacement fund, which is proposed at $983,070, a jump from this year’s $649,800.

The increase would cover the replacement of six buses, at a cost of $586,170, and the additional purchase of four 66-passenger buses at a cost of $396,900.

The additional buses would be needed to cover route adjustments that are anticipated if Duneland expands the elementary school day in the 2012 school year. Though nothing is set in stone at this time, Baer said Duneland is looking into a longer school day to fit all the required academic instruction within the allotted time periods.

Pruis said the start and end times of school might be adjusted to add more time to each day, which in turn would affect the student busing with additional routes needed.

The state’s new requirement that schools prepare 12-year bus replacement plans raised concerns as well Monday. Baer said it’s nearly impossible to keep school buses in operation for 12 years, especially in northern Indiana. Pruis cited the recent example of repair work that had to be done to a door on a 2000 Duneland bus that was nearly rusted out.

Duneland Director of Transportation Jim Bonfield said that the budget is the first time that Duneland is proposing to add new buses to the fleet since he joined the system.

CHS Report

Also Monday, the school board heard a presentation about communication changes at Chesterton High School.

Assistant Principal Kevin Zeck outlined the professional development program for teachers. In the past, the teacher sessions focused on lecture style approach, in which all teachers learned the same thing at the same time, with minimal follow up. Under a new approach, CHS will focus more on workshops, with teachers choosing the topics they are most interested in. Issues will be broken down into “strands,” in which teachers will delve into a topic over different sessions. Topics will include how to motivate the students, how to teach like a champion, and how to create a mentoring culture. Three additional strands will be devoted to technology, including teacher created web pages.

Another new project underway at CHS is an online version of the CHS student newspaper, the Sandscript. Editor in chief Micheala Sosby outlined how the online paper will incorporate video clips, the WDSO radio and a Facebook page. The online paper will give students and parents continually updated information.

“Using just the print isn’t as efficient as it was 20 to 30 years ago,” she said.

Personnel

In personnel matters, the school board approved the appointment of Abby Collins and Dawn Price as aides at Bailly Elementary. The board also accepted the resignation of John Snyder as the boys track coach at CHS.

Duneland enrollment hike not as great as first reported

The enrollment increase of 71 students reported on the first day of school at the Duneland has shriveled considerably.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer announced Monday that as of the last head count, Duneland has grown by about 10 students compared to last year.

That pales in comparison to the first day of school last month, when the count showed 5,934 students, compared to 5,863 on the first day last year.

Baer said the enrollment increase of 71 on the first day of school was accurate compared to the first day of school last year. But that figure included students who were enrolled, and Duneland had every reason to believe they were properly enrolled. But for whatever reason, he said, the students should have been or are actually enrolled in other schools, such as those who moved away, those who are moving in but not yet officially relocated yet, or those who live in other school districts.

Baer said Duneland would have preferred to continue to see a higher enrollment increase.

The numbers can, and probably will, change again. The “official” enrollment count to determine state funding will be taken on Sept. 16.

 

Posted 9/13/2011