Budget for 2009 is ‘substantially tighter’ according to Superintendent Jones

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The Switzerland County School Board will consider the adoption of its 2009 budget at its meeting this Monday night; but as the process goes through some dramatic changes this year; Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones says that this budget is much tighter than previous years.

“It’s tighter than previous years,” Dr. Jones said. “We have declining enrollment and we’re also continuing to deal with the Ann Geyman embezzlement; so we’re substantially tighter on this.”

The advertised budget for 2009 is $14,416,602; which is up just slightly from the 2008 actual budget of $14,311,585. Dr. Jones said that once the school board officially approves the budget Monday night, it will then be sent to the Department of Local Government Funds, which will then consider the budget, hold a series of hearing with school officials sometime in October or November of this year, and the final budget number will be announced in January of next year.

The advertised budget is usually higher than the actual approved budget at the state level. For example: the advertised budget for 2008 was $14,447,511; but it dropped to $14,311,585 after the state hearings.

Dr. Jones said that much of the planning for submitting the budget began earlier this year, and with her not coming on board as superintendent until July 1st, she credited much of the budget work to corporation treasurer Wilma Swango and assistant superintendent Darin Gullion.

“They really worked hard to make the cuts necessary to keep our budget in line without hurting the education of the children,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s a tight budget, but it’s a good budget.”

Dr. Jones said that the General Fund portion of the budget is actually slightly down from the 2008 budget, and with staff salaries and benefits coming from that section of the budget, she termed the General Fund “prudent”.

“It’s an area that we need to control,” the superintendent said. “We have to look at all areas, but the General Fund is our biggest area.”

Making this year’s budget more complicated is that a new measure by the Indiana Legislature means that funds for the General Fund and for Preschool will no longer come from county property taxes. Once those funds are set, the state will pay the school corporation those funds. Treasurer Wilma Swango said that she believes that the funds will come from money generated by sales taxes.

Another area of concern is Transportation, where the state stopped providing funds a couple of years ago, leaving local school corporations to cover the cost of transportation through local tax dollars.

For a school system like Switzerland County’s, transportation is a high dollar item because of the number of miles that buses have to cover on a daily basis to pick up students.

“Transportation is going to be tougher,” Dr. Jones said. “We want to keep all of our routes going, but we can’t predict fuel prices. If fuel continues to rise, then our transportation budget will be stretched.”

One of the areas that the school corporation will try and make up some lost revenue will be in transportation operating, where the corporation will make an excess levy appeal to the Department of Local Government Finance. Wilma Swango said that under state restrictions the Switzerland County School Corporation will not be able to meet its transportation budget, so it is asking the state to allow an excess levy to cover those costs.

This excess levy is important to the school corporation because of rising fuel costs; the fact that this is a county wide district so services can’t be consolidated; and also because the school corporation has revised its specifications for contracted bus routes, allowing only buses to be used that are no older than 14 years at the beginning of the school year.

If contract drivers have to purchase newer buses to comply, then the contract bids will go up, adding to the school’s debt in transportation.

One area of good news for Switzerland County taxpayers comes in debt service, where again this year the Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation has agreed to pay all of the debt service. That means that about six-cents will come off the tax rate going to property owners.

Wilma Swango also noted that by December 31st, 2008, all debt owed on county school buildings will be paid off with the exception of the middle school. With less debt to pay in the future, that will free up more funds for the endowment to provide grants in other areas.

“We are very appreciative to the endowment and to the school board for paying the debt service portion of the school levy,” Dr. Jones said. “That makes us with some of the lowest taxes in the state.”

The Capital Projects Plan in the 2009 budget is about $700,000 higher than the actual budget for 2008, but Dr. Jones said that some of the increase is due to the state allowing some items normally in the General Fund – such as a portion of money paid for liability and comprehensive insurance and portions of utility bills – to be paid through Capital Projects funds rather than the General Fund.

Dr. Jones also said that the school corporation will be doing its regular computer hardware and software upgrades in the coming year, so that’s an additional expense; and Darin Gullion did an outstanding job of writing specific capital project expenditures into the budget.

Proposed items for the coming year include a new hot water heater and cooling tower at the high school; along with new water fountains and wash basins in the restrooms at the high school gym.

At the middle school, plans are to do work with a sewage pump system and work on the roof drains; and as Switzerland County Elementary, plans are to purchase new playground equipment and extend the parking lot. Jefferson-Craig will see money put into new classroom lighting.

Another area of concern both short-term and long-term for the school corporation is that the funds provided to schools by the state to pay for the General Fund are based on the school’s ADM – Average Daily Membership.

Simply, the more students a school corporation has, the more money it will receive from the state.

“Our ADM has been decreasing and we expect that trend to continue,” Wilma Swango said.

With fewer children translating to fewer dollars, school officials are encouraging all parents to make a special point of making sure that their children are in school tomorrow (Friday), September 12th.

September 12th is “Count Day” for the state; and the number of students in attendance on that day is the number that the state will use to figure the ADM dollars.

“It’s extremely important to taxpayers that we have all of our children in school on September 12th,” Dr. Jones said.

The proposed 2009 budget was also calculated on 80-percent of the county’s Assessed Valuation – the total value of all property in the county.

Wilma Swango said that normally a budget is figured on 90-percent of the Assessed Valuation, but the consultant who worked with the school corporation to develop the 2009 budget advised the use of 80-percent; due in part to an increase in the Homestead Credit that was revised by the state legislature. This will have an affect on local property taxes.

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Shown here is a graph that depicts the school corporation budgets, advertised and actual, for 2007, 2008, and the proposed budget for 2009.

The figures at the bottom of the graph show the advertised assessed valuation of the county (ADV AV) and the actual assessed valuation of the county (ACTUAL AV).