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Putting everything on the table

The South Henry School Board met with school administrators Monday night to talk about different options they can take as they face a smaller budget in the next few years.

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

South Henry schools are preparing to tighten their belts for the next couple years.

The student count last fall showed that a combined enrollment at Tri Elementary and Tri High is down 64 students from the previous year.

Since education funding is tied to enrollment, that means the South Henry School Corporation will need to get by with about $380,000 less in next year’s budget.

South Henry School Board members met with Superintendent Wes Hammond, central office staff and the building principals Monday night to talk about school finances and discuss ways to keep everything running smoothly.

The board didn’t make any decisions at the work session. It was an informational meeting only.

At the start of the meeting, South Henry Business Manager Amy Milner explained the new budgeting process the state implemented.

Each public school corporation still has a debt-service fund, a pension-debt-service fund for retiree benefits and a rainy day fund. Daily expenses, however, are now separated into an Education Fund or an Operations Fund.

The Education Fund essentially includes everything directly involved with teaching students, Milner said. That includes teacher and building administrator salaries.

All other “non-instructional” expenses are now in Operations. This includes bus replacements, transportation, capital projects, central office salaries and utilities.

Hammond said schools have the ability to move some money from Education to Operations, if they need to.

“Our issue is we have less to transfer out of Education than we would have if we hadn’t lost those 64 kids,” Hammond said.

South Henry board members are curious where the students went. Hammond said there are just fewer kids in Henry County right now for all the schools to share.

There was also some discussion of creating a sort of “exit interview” to understand why students transfer out of the district. Some students may also have begun homeschooling or attending online classes.

Hammond and Milner worked up financial projections based on having lower enrollment numbers in the future. Hammond explained it is better to plan for low numbers than to budget with the hope of bringing in new kids.

The goal is for South Henry School Corporation to get into position during the 2019-2020 school year to be ready for less revenue in the 2020-2021 school year.

“We want to be conservative now and tighten the belt now,” Hammond said.

Hammond said all options are currently on the table for making the budget work.

He said all business decisions at South Henry School Corporation will be made with the students’ best interests in mind.

“Some of these are not very big savings, but they add up,” Hammond told his board.

South Henry will see some savings as teachers and staff members retire, for example. The board doesn’t have to replace each teacher. Even when they do, new teachers with less experience will earn less than teachers at the top of the pay scale.

Hammond said the district can also save a little money by depending solely on federal Title II grant money for professional development and by seeking other grant opportunities.

Tri schools might also move away from summer school and begin focusing on remediation throughout the year, Hammond said.

South Henry School Corporation has a bit of breathing room this year because the district received $200,000 more in tax revenue this year than it expected.

Hammond said the “levy excess” came from people in the district catching up on their back taxes or even buying up empty buildings to get them back on the tax rolls.

It is unusual for schools to receive such a high levy excess payment, and South Henry School Corporation cannot bank on that happening again in upcoming years.

Hammond said Monday’s meeting was all about getting financial information in the board members’ hands so they could start mulling over some of his recommendations.

“We’re not ready to make a decision right now,” Hammond said. “We don’t need to act on any of these right away.”

The South Henry School Board will have their regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 in the Tri High library, 6972 S. Ind. 103.