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Welcome to North of 96th, your source for business news from Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville. Your host is Andrea Muirragui Davis.

K-12 / Boone County / Public schools / Education Finance / Hamilton County / School funding / Regional News

Lawmakers OK bill keeping school buses on the road

March 18, 2014
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Legislators delivered a temporary reprieve to Westfield Washington Schools and other cash-strapped districts facing steep losses in their transportation budgets.

But the final version of House Bill 1062, approved by both chambers last week with just one no vote, did not include a Senate amendment that also would have allowed some schools to test the market for school-bus advertising.

“We would have explored options, had we been part of the pilot, but it came up so quickly that we really hadn't even started to look into options,” said Mark Keen, Westfield Washington’s superintendent.

As IBJ reported in January, Westfield Washington is one of nearly 60 school districts across the state that stand to lose at least 20 percent of the tax revenue collected for transportation, bus replacement and capital because of so-called protected levy legislation intended to make sure they pay their debt.

Westfield Washington, which stood to lose 91 percent of its transportation funding, notified the state Department of Education last year that it would stop transporting students to school in 2016 unless the situation was resolved.

The legislative fix, which is still awaiting Gov. Mike Pence’s signature, lets districts spread their tax-cap losses over several funds rather than requiring that debt-service accounts remain whole. It applies to districts facing losses of 10 percent or more—about 90 statewide.

It’s just a stop-gap measure, stemming the schools’ losses for three years, but officials say it helps.

“This gives us more time to avoid the loss, and we will continue to work with legislators for a permanent fix,” said Mike Reuter, chief financial officer of Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Fishers.

HSE, Westfield, Noblesville and Zionsville schools are affected by the legislation. Carmel, Sheridan and Hamilton Heights schools all fell under the 10-percent threshold.

“In three years, if we get the growth that we expect, we will still be impacted, but to a much lesser degree,” Westfield’s Keen said.

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