Hamilton County officials to state: Fix school funding

February 12, 2014
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Elected officials throughout Hamilton County are putting aside their jurisdictional differences to ask state lawmakers for help fixing school-funding issues they say are jeopardizing the county’s public education—and possibly its economic development efforts.

Despite having some of Indiana’s highest performing schools (four made U.S. New & World Report’s list of the Top 10 high schools in the state), Hamilton County school corporations rank at the bottom in terms of per-pupil operating support.

And as IBJ reported last month, a new law intended to make sure school districts pay their debt is threatening to permanently idle school bus fleets by limiting their options for dealing with revenue losses due to property tax caps.

Westfield Washington Schools already has warned the state that it will stop transporting students in 2016 if something doesn’t change.

So public entities are rallying behind an effort to educate lawmakers, adopting an identical resolution imploring them to repeal the problematic legislation and boost base funding to keep pace with the cost of living.

Hamilton County Commissioners this week joined the Carmel City Council in approving the measure, which is expected to be considered by the Fishers Town Council, Westfield City Council, Noblesville Common Council and Hamilton County Council in the coming weeks. Chambers of commerce also are signing on.

The resolution lays out what’s at stake: Hamilton County is an economic engine for growth, attracting successful corporations and a desirable workforce by offering “excellent public education options” in its six school districts. But “the current school funding disparity jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of Hamilton County’s school corporations,” according to the resolution.

Officials hope presenting a united front will get lawmakers’ attention.

In the short term, they want a temporary reprieve from the so-called “protected levies” legislation taking effect this year. The law, passed in 2012, requires schools to take tax-cap losses out of their transportation and capital projects funds instead of spreading the pain over several accounts.

If it stands, almost 60 districts across the state stand to lose at least 20 percent of that revenue. Five of them—including Westfield Washington—are facing reductions of 90 percent or more.

Rep. Todd Huston’s House Bill 1062 would address the problem by reverting to the previous approach. It passed the House by a 94-0 vote on Jan. 30 and has been referred to the Senate appropriations committee for consideration.

Senate Bill 163 also addresses the problem, but it would only apply to districts that lose 20 percent or more of their transportation funding. It passed 49-0 on Jan. 28 as has been referred to the House Ways & Means Committee.

Local leaders hope lawmakers also recognize the need for a long-term fix to the state funding formula, which pays for school operations.  Starving the schools could cause communities to go hungry, they say.

“This is something that needs to be addressed,” said County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt.

  • $$$
    How about these schools first finding places to cut their budgets? There is so much money spent on things other than core education that there has to be plenty of savings through a re-prioritization of education. But no, it's always spend more and more and more, and since it is "for the children" nobody has the nerve to question it.
    • Good schools
      I want good schools and am willing to pay for them. And I don't want just "core education," either. I want my kids to be able to participate in band, orchestra, drama, etc., as kids have for generations. Funding good schools is the best possible use of local/state tax dollars.
    • Schools have cut
      As an involved parent of the Avon school district, I can tell you that our school system (and I'm sure most of the other Indiana school systems) have cut just about all that they possibly can since the circuit break tax cap and the new “general fund” for education. The Avon administration has been transparent on the current financial state and the spending and has made this information publicly available. The long and short of it is that the state has taken over the “general fund” and is in control of how tax dollars for educational spending are distributed and managed. In short, the state has done a very poor job of managing this and have created a very unfair and unequitable distribution across schools and our teachers and kids are suffering as a result. In Avon, we are one of the top 20 school systems in the state, but yet almost to the very bottom of funding out of all of the 300 schools in the state (I think 285 out of 300). We are now to the point where our buses are breaking down and in need of replacement, 85% of our computers are at end of life and our teacher compensation is one of the lowest in the area. We have an “A” rating, but I think that this will start to diminish as we’re not able to sustain our economic support of transportation, teacher salaries and technology required in today’s age. Many school systems have been able to temporarily stop the bleeding due to passed referendums and severe cuts. However, the current system in place is absolutely not sustainable. To state that the schools haven’t cut all that they can was likely very applicable a few years ago. But, they’ve had no choice but to go through severe cuts since the tax cap and creation of the “general fund”. I would encourage you to reach out to your local school system to truly find out where things stand as things really have changed for the worse. I don’t think that telling them to cut anymore is very realistic anymore and there has to be some long-term solutions from the state or else we’ll continue to have huge class sizes, privatized or no transportation and a loss of teaching talent to different school systems, states or teachers quitting the profession altogether.
      • Well said, Informed Parent!
        I totally agree with your remarks. While I'm in the Hamilton Southeastern school district, we too are near the bottom of the state in per-student funding. We are still performing at a high level but I'm concerned about how long we can continue to excel with fewer resources. Our district continues to grow, so we are still needing to expand capacity, but there are some aging buildings in our district. The operating budgets have been cut as much as they can without starting to affect teachers. I wish the state would start looking very closely at the landscape that has been left behind from the state-mandated property tax caps. Cities and schools are suffering.
      • dont forget Franklin Township!
        Franklin Township has the exact same issues as these schools - and unlike these districts have had 2 referendums fail. Since we don't seem to have any political clout, I hope the state will listen to the Hamilton Township schools. The State needs to start funding public education and quit worrying about expanding the voucher program.
      • Spend $$ wisely
        I couldn't agree more the assertion that good schools are the absolute best use of tax dollars. And that schools are generally facing some tough budget cuts that they shouldn't have to. However, its very simple to see how a lot of this came about (aside from blaming property tax caps). Avon middle school north was recently built by my parent's house. It has 10 tennis courts, 4 baseball/softball fields and a turf football field with a full track, lighting for night games, and press box. This is very unlike the environment 99% of Americans have been schooled in. Yes, schools do need resources for drama, the arts, good teachers and even athletics. But come on, let's not kid ourselves that we've exhausted all options.
        • How about the same for all
          Here is a novel idea. How about the state gives the same amount to all schools per student?
        • Understanding school budgets
          As someone who served for nearly 7 years on the Brownsburg school board, I can tell you that the budget cuts have ALREADY been occurring for years. In fact, in Brownsburg, we cut our budget one time BEFORE former Gov. Mitch Daniels arbitrarily cut school budgets across the board. We took that cut, managed around it and still lived within our means. For everyone who thought property tax caps was such a brilliant idea, I will tell you that move alone has damaged funding for K-12 public schools since it was passed and it will hurt schools for years to come. With all due respect, I wish people would take the time to really review a school's annual budget and before you do -- be sure you've reviewed all of the laws that apply to how that money legally can be spent. Talk about an education, I guarantee you'll learn something. And, one of the lessons will be that with very, very little exception schools are doing absolutely everything they can to provide the best education possible for our children. For growing districts such as ours, Hamilton SE and others, the challenge is even greater because the school funding formula does not fully compensate a district for all of the kids it is expected to educate. The formula needs to be fixed and the playing field needs to be level for all of our school districts.
        • Breaking the unions
          Was a major step toward restructuring funding by weakening the ISTA and their socialist policies which push funds toward underperforming districts. Throwing good M$ after bad again & again & again hasn't worked, doesn't work & won't work. Communities need to fund their schools. Get the state out of it so the liberal policies are removed.
          • They have already cut their budgets
            Schools have already cut their budgets. This year teachers in the HSE district received a cost of living raise of less than one percent. Next year they will receive a raise of less than half a percent. The two years before that raises have also be very small. Employees in the school districts have received raises far less than the level of inflation for the last four or five years. The state cut hundreds of millions of dollars our of the schools budgets during the recession and has not restored that money to the school. Please be careful to say that schools should cut their budgets.
          • Different fiunds
            I can understand your frustration about expensive facilities. However, funds for constructing new schools do not come from the general fund from which teacher's salaries are paid. I do not know how Avon has paid for the tennis courts (whether or not that money is from the general fund or the separate fund that is used for construction of facilities), but I do know that the general fund and the funds used to construct new schools come from different accounts.
            • Local Funding
              Communities can not fund their schools because their ability to tax property has been capped by the state. I do not know of any other type of tax that could be assessed at the local level. This is a very complex issue and needs to be treated as such.
            • Sorry for the typos
              Upon reading over my posts, I noticed that I made several mistakes in my typing. This is a very emotional issue for me and I realize that I was a bit hasty and that I should have reviewed my writings before I posted them.
            • School can make more cuts.
              I live within and have a child in the HSE school district. I disagree that HSE has cut all they can from their budget. HSE has 20 schools, one admin building and over 100 acres of land. What frustrates me is why HSE feels the need to run irrigation to keep the grass green. Why do they feel the need to put down new mulch every year? While these may be small costs these are not necessities and and do add up over a period of time, and instead of worrying about what the outside looks like this money needs to be going to what's going on inside. One of the issues that gets under my skin since Mike wants to cut the transportation budget is the contract with Fishers. If you read the memorandum of understanding between Fishers and HSE:HSE agrees to reimburse fishers for the cost of fuel for vehicles and grounds maintenace equipment utilized to provide grounds maintenace. Fishers then bills HSE. My frustration is I cannot count how many times I have driven by a school and seen a truck idling while 2 to 3 people are sitting in it and doing nothing. I saw a foreman Dave Stafford driving around town with his rider sound asleep. The other day I saw one the drivers of a CDL truck sitting having a cup of coffee at a school on Olio with the truck running. Everyone who drives knows the high cost of fuel. Mike wants to cut the transportation budget but not demand Fishers trucks not idle on school property and I believe Fishers has a no truck idling policy, but does not want to enforce it when it comes to billing the schools for fuel costs. Mike Reuter you need a reality check there are more areas where money can be saved. Also when you hear the public works director Eric Pethel and assistant public works director Sean O' Grady say time and again find a way to bill the schools you have to wonder how many non related school items have been charged to the school. I have commented before Scott Fadness needs to implement a program that measures town employees efficiency and productivity while working at the schools. Implementing this type of program will help keep costs down. Also I believe the schools are being over charged for salt. This is how they measure salt usage: how much salt did you use uh uh 1/8th of a ton? How do you accurately measure an 1/8 of a ton without some kind of a calibration system telling you how much you are putting out? I don't even want to get into the 95 million dollars schools they are building. The problem is Reuters, Smith, and DeLucia are more concerned with being Fadness's buddy than holding Fishers fiscally responsible when it comes to doing business with the school. Hey maybe if Reuters, Smith, and Reuters all put on a Fadness for Fishers t shirt he will find a special TIF for HSE.
              • "Different funds"
                The "different fund" argument is always brought up by school administrators, from grade schools all the way up to state universities. While I understand the concept, this is exactly the kind of thinking that has gotten us in trouble. Clearly schools are facing serious problems, so why are these funds different? Why can't we break out of "the way things have always been"? The different funds argument holds teachers and students hostage with red tape.
              • Alan - Employee?
                I usually don't post, but this is a really important topic. As many people have posted on here, the schools have cut and cut and cut. I want my kids to go to good schools and I am willing to pay for it. Everyone should be...this is the single most important issue for our future as a town, county, state and country. The additional cuts you've pointed out here, while may signify a lack in efficiency, certainly will not save the school system much money and sounds like a rant of a jaded employee. I for one am thankful for the Fishers DPW. They, including you I'm guessing because of your inside knowledge, have worked so hard to make our streets passable and our schools safe for children. Paid or not, its a win win for the town and saves the school money. The way I depend on these guys to get my kids to school, I'm good with a coffee break. Back to the real topic ... I'm so happy that elected officials in hamilton county have found common ground on this issue and have made this conversation a priority with the state. BRAVO!
              • education that pays
                Do our children really need expensive football stadiums and olympic swimming pools? Why can't sports be funded privately? Half of a school complex is devoted to sports. Only a very small percentage of students will make it to professional sports, what i see at most school sports is a bunch of parents trying to live thier dreams through thier children, i find these screaming parents pathetic. School is supposed to be a place where children get an education, I am constantly reading stories of how the U.S. students are falling behind other countries as far as academic scores. An article i read a few years ago cited that the average NFL player career lasts for 2 1/2 years and they leave the NFL $660.000.00 in debt. Case in point, children need to understand more about math and less about football.
              • HSE Senior Centers
                Alan, what would you rather do for the 95 million dollar senior center buildings? Would you rather have 80 trailers in the back of the school? I hate to tell you this, but there are a lot of HSE kids that will not have a place to sit in a few years because Fishers is growing. They had 2 choices. Build a third highschool, or expand the ones we've got. Considering you are very frugal, expanding the highschool would be in you're best interest.
              • Not an employee!
                HSE Parent I am a taxpayer that is sick and tired of hearing tax payer funded organizations need more money for things that do not matter to the issue at hand. The issue isn't a worker taking a coffee break, but leaving his truck idling while doing so at a school. HSE has to pay back these fuel costs and this takes money away from the in class education. While I believe that DPW does a good job their leaders such as Scott Fadness need to implement programs to measure performance and measure materials used at the schools such as salt. If you do not have an accurate way to measure these items you will be over charged once again the school has to pay for material it may or may not be using. I agree back to the issue at hand Mike Reuters needs to make more cuts from the budget that are not needed for core education and he simply has not done that. If HSE can afford to pay for wasted fuel and material they may or may not be getting they do not additional tax dollars. If you are comfortable with paying for unnecessary costs that take away from your childs education more power to you. I on the other hand believe HSE needs to do more budget cutting before they get any more tax dollars.
                • Running Trucks
                  Really Alan sounds like you need to run for office if you don't like ANYTHING that is going on with it. You crying about a guy leaving his truck running after the COLD winter we had? If you your worried about grass getting watered? Sounds like you have a vendetta for a couple of city employees and not a real concern for the school district. I for one have two younger kids in the HSE schools now and I don't mind paying a little more for them to have a great experience while attending the school. I don't care if they make the pro's or not but I want them to play on the best fields MY tax dollars can get them. And maybe you should be sending a note to the great people at Reynolds Far Equipment for putting in the football field that YOU or I didn't have to pay for. It are the kind things people do in this community that make it what it is, not someone popping off about a few guys that you must not like! I for one love living in Fishers and will remain here for many years to come. I also feel my tax dollars need to STAY in Fishers not sent to Gary, IPS, or any other school where my kids don't go! We would not have near this issue if that were the case, but some people in our state gov. feel the need to "spread the wealth". I for one don't feel that way. that should be the Town/City of Fishers decision to help out. Keep our tax dollars in Fishers thats why I am willing to pay a lot more for a house and expect my schools to have green grass and nice places to play. I like being about to let my kids go out and play without fear unlike a city very close to us.

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                1. I am so impressed that the smoking ban FAILED in Kokomo! I might just move to your Awesome city!

                2. way to much breweries being built in indianapolis. its going to be saturated market, if not already. when is enough, enough??

                3. This house is a reminder of Hamilton County history. Its position near the interstate is significant to remember what Hamilton County was before the SUPERBROKERs, Navients, commercial parks, sprawling vinyl villages, and acres of concrete retail showed up. What's truly Wasteful is not reusing a structure that could still be useful. History isn't confined to parks and books.

                4. To compare Connor Prairie or the Zoo to a random old house is a big ridiculous. If it were any where near the level of significance there wouldn't be a major funding gap. Put a big billboard on I-69 funded by the tourism board for people to come visit this old house, and I doubt there would be any takers, since other than age there is no significance whatsoever. Clearly the tax payers of Fishers don't have a significant interest in this project, so PLEASE DON'T USE OUR VALUABLE MONEY. Government money is finite and needs to be utilized for the most efficient and productive purposes. This is far from that.

                5. I only tried it 2x and didn't think much of it both times. With the new apts plus a couple other of new developments on Guilford, I am surprised it didn't get more business. Plus you have a couple of subdivisions across the street from it. I hope Upland can keep it going. Good beer and food plus a neat environment and outdoor seating.