School Corporation sets 2012 budget, balances conservative estimates and student need


The Switzerland County School Corporation presented its 2012 budget at a public hearing on Tuesday night, and school administrators are trying to present a budget that works to balance conservative projections while trying to continue to meet the needs of students.

Again this year the bulk of the budget – General Fund money – will not come from local property taxes, but instead will be generated from the state by using sales tax funds.

The state now gets a “Student Count” for each corporation, and then gives a set amount of money to the corporation for each student who is enrolled. That count day will take place on Friday, September 16th, when all corporations in the state will report the number of students who are enrolled in that particular corporation. From those numbers, the state will determine how much General Fund money each corporation will receive for 2012.

Here in Switzerland County, like all corporations in Indiana, Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones is projecting a General Fund budget based on enrollment here now, but says that school enrollment here continues to drop.

“Our General Fund budget figure that we are projecting is $10,496,249,” Dr. Jones said. “That’s 10 1/2 million dollars. From that, 80-percent of that is salary; with 85- to 88-percent covering salary and benefits for employees.”

With count day just over a week away, Dr. Jones says that she believes that the corporation is again down on the number of students, which will translate into less money.

“It’s hard to say yet, but we believe that we’re down possibly 40 students from last year,” Dr. Jones said. “If you calculate a figure of $6,000 per student, that’s a rough estimate, but if you calculate that, that’s significant. That’s $240,000 that we will be off.”

Last year, the state approved General Fund money for the Switzerland County School Corporation of $11,700,000 – so the school corporation is being very conservative in its estimation of how much General Fund money will come from the state this year.

“In 2012, the total state funding shows that we are already down $246,000,” Corporation Treasurer Wilma Swango said. “That’s before we get our student count, and we believe that student count is going to put us down another $240,000.”

“We’re looking at other options,” the superintendent said. “We applied for and received the kindergarten grant, so that’s going to bring another $100,000 into our corporation. Also, we have been holding back some of our federal jobs money in anticipation of this cut, so that’s going to help us. It was a two year grant, so we could have spent some of it last year, but we held on to it, so that’s really going to help this coming year.”

The budget crunch is not something that is unique to Switzerland County, as school corporations all over the state are looking at declining dollars from the state, while Indiana officials are raising the expected standards even higher. It’s becoming a “do more with less” situation for all schools.

But thanks to conservative projections and help from the Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation, things here are not as bad as other corporations.

“While things aren’t good, they aren’t bleak,” Dr. Jones said.

“One of the things that is unique to smaller schools is the restoration grant and small schools grant – but those have gone away,” Wilma Swango said. “Those kind of protected our money in the past and protected smaller schools. That’s no longer a portion of the budget process. The way it works has been changed.”

So, with the bulk of the funding for the school corporation for the coming year coming from the state in the form of General Fund money, the Switzerland County School Corporation is faced with the task of trying to provide a quality education for students here while working within a funding structure that it doesn’t control.

There are funds, however, that still come from property taxes: Capital Projects, Bus Replacement, Transportation Operating; and Debt Service.

The debt service portion of the budget will again be covered by a gift from the Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation, which for the past several years has covered the debt service portion of the budget – the money collected that is used to pay off loans that the corporation has from when it built buildings, for example – and that has translated into lower taxes for all county property owners.

“We pay some of the lowest property taxes in the state because the Endowment Corporation is paying the debt service,” Superintendent Jones said. “We appreciate the endowment corporation taking on that for the benefit of all of the county’s taxpayers. Our taxes have gone down consistently and continue to be reduced because we are fortunate to have the endowment.”

Why is enrollment declining?

Dr. Jones said that there can be many issues, and is a problem that is not unique to the local corporation.

“We’re an aging community, and Indiana itself is a state and is not growing significantly.” Dr. Jones said. “Our estimated student enrollment was 1,383 for last year, so that’s what we built our budget on, because you never really know how many new students you’re going to have or how many you’re going to lose. You can only speculate. We used last year’s number, but we believe that not everybody’s back, so that’s the issue.”

As for kindergarten students, in the past school corporations could only count them as “one-half” of a student, because they weren’t at school all day, everyday. Now, with the school corporation having all day, everyday kindergarten, the state will still only allow the corporation to count them as one-half of a student, but the local school corporation did receive a grant from the state to help offset that financial loss.

So at the end of the day, with General Fund money being funding that the local school corporation can’t control; one way that county residents can help their school corporation is to make sure that all eligible school children are officially enrolled in the Switzerland County School Corporation on “count day” next Friday.

Any student who comes after that day, the school corporation will not receive funding for.

As for the capital projects portion of the budget; Dr. Jones says that the school board is continuing to look at repairs and upgrades at Switzerland County Elementary School, where very few major improvements have been made in the 31 years since the building was opened. One of the projects that the corporation will be looking at what renovations and additions will have to be made so that Switzerland County Elementary School sixth graders can remain at the school rather than being brought to Jefferson-Craig for their sixth grade year.

Other improvements such as restroom improvements, classroom doors, and the stage will all have to be addressed at some point.

“It’s time to look at that building,” Dr. Jones said. “We’ve focused a lot downtown, but it’s time to look at SCES, and that’s part of Capital Projects. I don’t see that it’s going to be done immediately, but we’re starting to put money away and to designate money in that area.”

Other funds will be used now and in the future to replace aging buses.

The total projected budget for 2012 is $15,115, 924 – but that budget won’t be firmly set until the corporation hears from the state.

“We’re holding the line on our budget as much as possible, but we continue to be focused on what’s best for our students,” the superintendent said. “That’s what we will continue to do.”