Roger Thornton, IAPSS, told The Times how information was gathered for a survey conducted by Indiana Association of School Business Officials, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents and Indiana School Board Association.
"We asked business managers and superintendents to complete the survey. They're the ones that are most familiar with the fiscal demands of their school districts," Thornton said.revealed results from school corporation surveys that asked for comments regarding the impact of a frozen revenue stream on the school district and the services it provides to students.
The survey was conducted voluntarily and 91 percent of school districts throughout the state answered.
"Our (Clay Community) school district absorbed most of the revenue reduction in 2002 by using our cash balance. We have no other sources of revenue; therefore staff reduction is our only option. The end result will be increased class sizes and/or reduction in programs such as Advanced Placement, which typically has small enrollments," was the local response to the survey.
The State Association of Public School Superintendents is very concerned about not only the fact that there will be no new funding, but that school districts will face current funding cuts.
"The survey asked what kind of effect the flat-line budget would have on our school corporation without those dollars and what's it's going to take to maintain our current fiscal status," Thomas Rohr, Clay Community Schools Superintendent, said.
He said the answers to the survey were strictly a hypothesis of all cuts coming from reduction in positions to maintain the current school corporation's fiscal status.
"Ninety percent of our budget is salaries and benefits. We still have bills we must pay, like utilities. So staff reduction is the only place we have to come up with the amount of money we would need to replace cuts in from ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Flat Grant and all transportation funding," Rohr said.
Clay Community Schools Board President Jon Hull expressed concern in a letter to the Editor (to be published in The Brazil Times Friday's opinion page) about the timeliness of the article, who answered the survey and why the information was released.
If three major state education organizations hadn't invited media to a press conference at the Statehouse last week, The Times most likely wouldn't have obtained survey results from each and every school district answering the survey and the public would not be aware of the impact of Gov. Frank O'Bannon's proposed budget on education.
Rohr explained the purpose for the survey was to make legislators aware of what will happen if Gov. O'Bannon's budget is passed and said the public needs to understand what kind of impact the funding cuts and reductions would have in staff and programs, programs that would in turn, have an impact on staff. Rohr also said no decisions have been made.
"Any final action must be done through the school board in consultation with all school organizations. There are other things the school corporation could do, other options to consider, and that's for the school board to decide. It'd be nice if we could do it without reductions, but when 90 percent of your General Fund costs are staff, it's not very realistic. I feel once next year's budget has been discussed at the Feb. 25 school board meeting, it will be made clear to the public what the situation really is," Rohr said.
Randy Burns, director of business affairs for Clay Community Schools, said, "Right now, we can only work with what we know. We don't know what flat-line means. We don't know how it will be applied."
To explain his theories on how it may be applied, Burns suggested two possibilities.
"First, we could receive the same dollar amount as last year. Or, we could receive dollars based on size," he said.
A growing school corporation would be hurt if it received the same dollar amount because money needed for the increased student count would not be available. But a dwindling school corporation would benefit because it would receive as much money as when student count was higher.
But if the dollars are based on student count, a dwindling school corporation would suffer while a growing school corporation would benefit.
"Remember, last year dollars were cut from the previous year. As far as size, most likely our numbers will remain fairly stable for student count. We may not be hurt quite as much if they give us the same amount as last year. But we'll still be hurting because of the rising fixed costs," he said.
On the average, school corporations will need in excess of a 3 percent increase in funding to sustain present programs with existing salaries. Increased enrollments, utility costs, insurance increases, coupled with existing salary increase schedules, combine to cause the unavoidable increase. O'Bannon's proposal specifically calls for removal of grant funding for all school transportation categories and ADA Flat Grant money is based on the ADA student count in the fall at each school corporation.
"Clay Community Schools deposit money into both funds. The General Fund is a fixed amount of $114,663 and the remainder goes into the Debt Service Fund. Last year, we put $51,000 into Debt Service," Burns said.
For school corporations that deposit ADA Flat Grant monies in their General Fund, the proposed budget cuts the General Fund revenue of those school corporations. For school corporations that deposit ADA Flat Grant monies in their Debt Service Fund, the local tax rate will necessarily be increased to replace the lost dollars to pay the debts of those school corporations.
"Most of the burden is already on the local taxpayer anyway. A large part of it comes from property tax. But other taxes make up revenue for the Debt Service Fund as well, such as excise and financial institution taxes. If state funding is gone for transportation as well as ADA Flat Grant money, that burden will also shift to the local taxpayer and most likely the tax levy cap on transportation will need to be increased," Burns said.
Some school corporations have strong cash balances and will be able to avoid harmful cuts for the short term. Others, with minimal cash balances or growing school corporations, will face layoffs and program cuts and/or increased class size.