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Commissioners table council request for $3.5 million to reduce school debt

Following a somewhat lengthy appeal by Harrison County Council Chair Gary Davis Monday night, the board of commissioners took under advisement his request for approval to spend $3.5 million in riverboat revenue on school debt reduction.
“I want to continue to do things that are good for the community in the long run,” said Commissioner James Goldman, moving to postpone a decision for two weeks.
During that time, Goldman said he will talk to legislators to find out if spending riverboat revenue for that purpose would jeopardize the distribution of gaming revenue set by the state.
His decision was made after finding out that the allocation can still be made in time to impact next year’s property tax bills.
Commissioner J.R. Eckart seconded the motion. Earlier, he said: “I think it behooves us to be very cautious on how we spend our money.”
Eckart stressed that should Harrison County appear to have excess money, the state legislature could decide to share it with other government entities in the state.
“We’re going to have to think about it and make a decision based on what’s best for this county,” Eckart said.
Nevertheless, the council will vote on the appropriation at its next meeting, Oct. 28, and Davis said he expects it to pass, as it did last year.
Davis took exception to statements in an Oct. 16 editorial by David Whipple in The Corydon Democrat. Davis said property tax breaks realized by spending money to reduce school tax debts resulted in a tax cut of $1.25 in school tax rates (under the old 33-percent property values or 42 cents under the new market value assessments), not just $60 for property valued at $60,000.
He also said the motive, as Whipple suggested, wasn’t to pass a tax break during an election year, but rather to continue the plan implemented last year.
The council brought the issue to the commissioners, hoping they would approve the council’s spending plan prior to it being passed.
The commissioners have approved riverboat funds for education each year since Harrison County began to receive the money in 1999, and the schools were back Monday night to discuss plans for spending next year’s allocation, if it’s approved.
“The funds are truly making a difference in the life of our children, parents, teachers and the community,” said South Harrison school board chair Susie Rainbolt.
And now South Harrison wants to develop a plan to pay for full-day kindergarten with riverboat funds and provide free textbooks to students.
She said the board has asked Supt. Neyland Clark to develop a plan to provide textbooks, and the board is studying the feasibility of full-day kindergarten.
The cost of textbooks hasn’t been determined, but Dr. Clark estimated it at $500,000 the first year and $200,000 in following years. “We don’t have all the answers tonight,” he said. “We’re still working on it.”
Clark said implementing all-day kindergarten would cost $875,000 initially (mostly for classroom improvements and added fixtures) to implement full-day kindergarten in schools not already offering the program in South Harrison, and $305,000 annually to keep the program going.
But the key question, said Commissioner Terry L. Miller, is whether full-day kindergarten is beneficial to young students.

“It is a very individual issue with the child and parent, but overall it is beneficial,” Clark said. “I would lend my support and recommendation that we would move to all-day kindergarten.
“The research shows it provides a tremendous benefit.”

Responding to a question from the board, Clark said the state would not continue to pay for textbooks for children of low-income families if the schools provided those free.
“If you don’t charge for textbooks, there’s no subsidy,” Clark said. “We are working with the state on that issue.”
Playing devil’s advocate, Goldman said to Rainbolt: “If you provide free textbooks, not everyone benefits from that.”
“Everything we do benefits a certain group of people,” she said.
“That’s the point I was trying to make,” Goldman said, with a knowing grin.

North Harrison and Lanesville also appealed for funding for programs such as technology and building improvements.
North Harrison Supt. Monty Schneider put in a plug for funds to help youth programs, such as implementing an alternative school at the Gerdon Youth Center for children who are suspended a short time.
“Certain kids just don’t fit in a normal situation,” Schneider said. “We need them someplace other than on our campus.”
The cost to North Harrison hasn’t been determined, but, Schneider said, he’s sure the system will be expected to pay its fair share for students sent to the alternative school.

Lanesville Junior-Senior High School Principal Tim Bridges spoke for Dr. Phil Partenheimer, who was at a conference for new superintendents.
Bridges said Lanesville may use its share of funds to start a foreign language program.
He supports the “wonderful” concept of all-day kindergarten, but he stressed that continued funding would be needed.
“I know some of the plans you have for 2003 are preliminary, and you will probably revise them,” Goldman said. “We’ll take this under advisement and look at helping you out some.”

His motion was again seconded by Eckart.

Under the spending plan adopted by the riverboat committee prior to Harrison County receiving a gaming license, 17 percent is earmarked for education, which includes five-percent savings. “Education” has included the library, adult education and enhancement programs such as Renaissance.
As of Oct. 10, Harrison County has spent $7.9 million on education, plus $3.5 to reduce school debts. The education fund has a balance of $3.5 million plus $4.8 million in savings.