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Program details reason behind proposed referendum

Program details reason behind proposed referendum Program details reason behind proposed referendum
Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]

The Lanesville Community School Corp. Board of Trustees will likely vote next week during a special meeting to propose a local tax referendum that will appear on the May Primary ballot.

Steve Morris, superintendent of the school corporation, during the second of two informational sessions, pointed out that the proposal would not create a new tax, but rather extend an existing one.

“Without referendum dollars, the anticipated expenses will be higher than anticipated revenue and the current cash balance will be depleted over time,” Morris said during an informational program Jan. 28 in the school cafeteria.

The proposed rate would be 17 cents for every $100 of assessed valuation. This would not be an increase, Morris said, but rather it would be a continuation of the current rate which is set to expire in 2021.

Morris said the school corporation would continue to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state.

He cited tax rate trends beginning with 2010 of 62 cents for two years, 68 cents, 64 cents, 66 cents, 79 cents, 62 cents, 78 cents, 70 cents, 69 cents and, for 2020, 73 cents.

“Before the state took over the education fund, the local tax rate was $1.26,” Morris said. “Basically, we work very, very hard from one school year to the next to have little fluctuation.”

Last year, at 69 cents, Lanesville had the 21st lowest tax rate of Indiana’s schools; the medium rate was $1.008. Looking at schools with similar number of students, Lanesville had the fourth lowest tax rate, Morris said, and, without the operating referendum, it would have the second lowest rate of all school corporations in the state.

School corporations have three primary funds: education, debt service and operation. (Prior to the takeover, they also had capital projects and bus replacement funds.)

For the 2020 budget, which is $8,635,817, Morris said Lanesville will receive $4,837,458 from the state, based on an enrollment of 740 students for the education fund. Salaries, benefits, utilities, instructional supplies and insurance are paid for from this fund. (Lanesville receives $5,700 per student, which puts it in the bottom 10 of the state’s 389 school corporations.)

The amount for the debt service fund for the 2020 budget is $617,638, which comes from property taxes, excise tax and commercial vehicle excise tax. Debt service pays for any building corporation leases, QSCB construction bonds and uncollected textbook rentals.

And, the third piece of the 2020 budget, coming in at $2,412,312, is the operations fund. From this, payments are made for building improvements, equipment, maintenance costs, utilities, technology, school buses, bus contracts and transportation costs, as well as emergencies, among other things.

Local taxes in 2020 will pay $1,399,009 of the corporation’s budget.

Also, the current tax referendum, which is set to expire in 2021, provides about $300,000 additionally each year. Money raised through an operating referendum levy can be used for any lawful school expenses.

“Down the road, that cash balance will no longer be there,” Morris said, adding that while enrollment has grown the past several years, he expects it to decline slightly this year.

Cost-cutting measures have been taken, Morris said, including combining the superintendent and high school principal positions, combining the assistant principal duties with those of the athletic director and transportation director, having one administrator for the elementary school, eliminating benefits for instructional assistants with the number of positions reduced, joining a health insurance trust with nine other school corporations, being proactive with riverboat funds received from Harrison County government and being part of a special education cooperative and a vocational education cooperative.

“With money following the student, there is no guarantee of future education fund revenue,” Morris said.

On top of that, health insurance premiums, salary and benefit expenses and utility costs will continue to rise, he said.

“Without referendum dollars, the anticipated expenses will be higher than anticipated revenue,” Morris said, “and the current cash balance will be depleted over time.”

In anticipation of the school board adopting a resolution to place the referendum on the May ballot, Morris explained that the Dept. of Local Government Finance has to approve the public question. If approved, the school board then certifies the approved public question to the county clerk. Once a resolution is adopted, there are certain legal guidelines the school corporation must abide by, such as using school facilities, equipment or funds to promote its position regarding the referendum. However, other groups, such as political action committees, and individuals may do so.

“We’re not going to run out and build an auditorium or anything like that,” Morris reassured the attendees last week. “It’s about functionality.”

The board’s special meeting to consider passing a resolution will be Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the administrative office.

Morris said he welcomes questions about the proposed tax referendum. He can be reached at 812-952-2555, ext. 203, and by email at [email protected]