School referendum needed to avoid possible consolidation

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Rising Sun High School will host its sixth and final public meeting concerning the school referendum this Tuesday, April 28th at 6 p.m.

Superintendent Branden Roeder said attendance at the meetings has been good with 60 to 70 estimated in attendance at the latest meeting held at the Bear Branch Fire Department.

The proposed increase of 25 cents per $100 of assessed value for seven years would bring in $667,000 and get the school out of a projected deficit of $501,244.

The funds in the General Fund will help with teacher pay and school operation.

The general fund rate in 2008 (when the state took over funding schools) was .6302 cents.

According to advertised tax rates in 2006, the general fund was at .80 cents. Prior to the granting of a riverboat casino, the 1996 advertised rate in Sept. 1996 was $2.3817.

In 1996, there was a debt service rate of .8147. Taxpayers have not been paying that for several years because city and county officials had required the 10-percent of the riverboat monies shared with the school endowment would be used to pay off the debt.

This year, both government entities allowed that money to be used for the general fund. That means the debt service will be back on the tax rate at an advertised 11 cents.

Prior to the casino, the tax rate for schools amounted to $4.0071 in 1996 – nearly half of $8.8075 total tax rate for Rising Sun city residents.

Homeowners with a house and one acre of land receive various credits on their taxes while owners of woods or additional acreage pay differently.

Roeder used his April Flypod discussion (on the school’s website – risingsunschools.com) to acknowledge that a farm with an assessed value of $500,000 would be affected significantly more. However, should there be a consolidation, those taxes would triple.

Voters can look to IN.gov/dlgf to find a property tax calculator and referendum calculator. All you need is to put in the assessed value (available from county assessor office) to determine the impact on their taxes.

Roeder has been encouraged by the turnouts and reported help from city and county assisted with $233,000 in debt last year.

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If the referendum fails, the result would be staff cuts, larger class sizes, pay to play and other department cuts. However, the school could put it on the ballot again in two years.

At the current rate, the school is expected to lose $122,000 over the next two years.

Failure then would prompt consolidation talks with South Dearborn. That would result in paying South Dearborn’s school tax rate, which was 1.3057 in 2014 (86-cents higher than Rising Sun-Ohio County Schools).

The school has been dealing with the state funding problems by cutting over $2.2 million since 2010 - by not replacing four teachers, four aides and an administrator while not giving teacher raises for the past nine years.

General Fund revenues of 2015 were $5,470,575.92 are slightly more than the $5,450,460.24 used to operate in 1999 (16 years ago), something Roeder said no business could continue to operate.

Strong academics

Roeder is promoting a strategic five year community plan to strengthen academics.

Graduation rate went from 65-percent (which officials say was incorrect) to 90-percent.

Currently the school offers 59 dual credits through Oakland City and Ivy Tech.

Among the future plans is to offer a possible Core 30 stamp meaning graduates could go to college with 30 credit hours.

Changes include: offering a general diploma; three years of math requirement instead of four; and a change in the attendance policy to be treated more as a detention plan.

The school board is working on a policy for protection of devices. Roeder reported that $6,100 in damages have been reported of the school issued tablets with only $969 being received from parents.

Parents will be offered to pay insurance on the devices. The first damage incident would cost $25, the second $50 and a third would be the cost of the device. Otherwise, a person without insurance would have to pay the cost of the device for any damage.

Roeder reported that there are 10 graduates who will be awarded Twenty First Century Scholarships this year. Although requirements for the program have been tightened, eighth grade students may sign up to participate and receive up to eight semesters of free tuition should they meet those requirements when they graduate.

The Twenty-first Century Scholars Program helps low and middle-income families meet the ever-increasing cost of a college education. A student must meet household income guidelines identical to the federal free and reduced lunch program. Students who meet this criteria take a pledge to graduate with specific GPA requirements, stay away from illegal drugs and alcohol, remain crime free, apply for admissions to an Indiana University or college, and meet certain financial aid application deadlines.

– Tim Hillman