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School budget includes 2% raises

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Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials have proposed a budget of more than $108 million for 2015, which includes a 2 percent raise for most teachers and adds about eight full-time jobs.

The proposed budget is a 2.3 percent increase from this year’s level.

Vaughn Sylva, assistant superintendent of financial services, said he expects the 2015 tax rate to be lower than the current 88 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

The public will have a chance to comment and ask questions at a public hearing Sept. 8, which will allow school officials time to make changes before the November deadline for budget approval.

Sylva gave school board members an overview of the balanced budget during a Monday public meeting, but he also explained that he expects the state to slash dollars from the submitted budget.

Because of property tax caps, he expects the state to trim nearly $700,000 from the school’s budget proposal, Sylva said.

That reduced budget would still reflect an increase of 1.7 percent over last year, and the salary increases and added positions would not disappear.

Only teachers rated effective or highly effective in a new teacher evaluation system mandated by the state are eligible for raises, but Superintendent John Quick said that will be 95 to 97 percent of BCSC teachers.

Sylva called the district’s Health Trust, which carried less than $300,000 in 2006, one of the most amazing stories in the state.

Health expenses are 4.5 percent lower than last year as of July, and reserves jumped by more than $1 million to $10.6 million.

So with no significant cuts to any department, how are officials able to propose a balanced budget with salary increases, additional teachers and a proposed tax rate decrease?

Increasing enrollment and assessed property values, Sylva said.

An estimated enrollment increase of more than 150 students means more state funding — which provides about $5,550 for each student in Grades 1 through 12 and half of that for kindergarten — although Sylva said a new state law changes how the state allocates dollars and creates a new challenge and new risk.

The state historically based funding on the September enrollment count, which would drive the revenues for the following Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 budget year.

Now the September count funds the current six-month period, a February count funds the first half of 2015, and the count one year from now will fund the second half of 2015.

“I can tell you that it has made a difficult job almost impossible,” he said. “Coming up with numbers for February and September of next year to fund the budget you’re seeing today is something I’m just not capable of doing, and I don’t know anybody who is.”

For planning purposes, Sylva predicted enrollment to stay flat through next September. But if students leave the district or new students move into it, funding would be affected.

Sylva said he also expects assessed value to increase in 2015, despite an 8.3 percent drop over the past decade.

Quick said that, although assessed value seems to be more stable, it still deserves attention.

“That needs to be a community conversation,” he said. “If all of these great things are happening in our community, why are we not consistently growing assessed value?”

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