While some long-term solutions may be in the works for the financial woes at South Putnam Community School Corporation, state Rep. Andy Thomas (R-Brazil) says the best solution for now may be just to suffer through some tough monetary decisions.
Thomas told the 150-plus member crowd at the May South Putnam Bchool Board meeting, that the 28 percent property tax hike felt in some areas of the school corporation was substantially higher than the statewide average of a two percent decrease in property taxes.
"This is a unique situation here in the South Putnam School Corporation," he said.
At the meeting, the legislator addressed concerns about how to better the school's chances at pulling out of the debt which has led to teacher layoffs and the property tax increases.
Board members and Thomas agreed that the best way to increase revenue for South Putnam is to encourage economic development. However, many patrons pointed out, it is difficult to bring in new business with high property tax rates.
Increasing the industrial tax base would be the best way to grow that income, Thomas explained, and one way to do that may be through a possible land deal with the Indiana Department of Correction and the Putnamville Correctional Facility.
Revisiting the topic he shared with the BannerGraphic during May 2 primary election coverage, he said he hopes to have a report from the DOC by July 1 describing what land the facility can release and what can be developed to improve the tax base of the school district.
The Department of Correction owns several scattered parcels of land around the facility, including about 100 acres along Manhattan Road.
"I still believe this is very important to this situation," he said. "My vision is to get at least several hundred acres on U.S. 40 for a manufacturing base or an industrial park."
He said as of May 10, the DOC had identified 300 acres they are ready to release.
Another option in the works may be to unite school corporations across the state to purchase prescriptions in bulk to save money.
He said 24 other states already have similar programs. A plan for Indiana may be months or years down the road, however.
As for any more help from the state, Thomas said additional funds are unlikely.
"There is very little we can do to get state money to a local school corporation," Thomas said. "This is really a local matter."
South Putnam Supt. Dan Schroeder has said part of the reason for teacher cuts has been the new state school funding formula which penalizes schools like South Putnam with declining enrollments.
In recent months, many parents have asked how the school can expect to keep students enrolled when the corporation is losing favorite teachers and desired programs. Now, with higher property taxes, many pointed out the school can't expect any new students to move in either.
Thomas said there is little to do to counter the cycle.
"I believe these folks are doing their very best in a tough situation," he said of school board members financial decisions, "but this school corporation is in debt, serious debt."
Meanwhile, also working with the board to help lower costs in the school's Operating Fund is the The South Putnam Classroom Teacher's Association (CTA).
CTA president Kim Fidler told the BannerGraphic the organization is in the process of renegotiating health care benefits for teachers at South Putnam.
"We are doing what we can to try and get our friends back," she said.