More than 25 concerned taxpayers appeared Monday evening at a special meeting of the South Putnam School Board, which had planned to approve advertisements for the 2008 budgets, capital project plans and a bus replacement plan.
Those taxpayers stayed quiet until the agenda item of the budget advertisement came up. Then they vehemently stated their opinions.
"Why do we have four school bus terminals, four superintendents and all these multiple schools?" audience members asked school board members Nancy Wells, Steve Cash, Darwin Nelson, Mike Rissler and Dave Bombei.
Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt explained there is a public hearing in September to discuss the budget. The published budgets can be lowered but not raised from the amount published in the newspaper. The budgets will be published in the BannerGraphic prior to Aug. 15.
The superintendent said he expects the 2008 budget to be about 5.5 percent higher than last year's budget of $14 million.
"When you look at tax rates, what will appear in the paper is always much higher than what the actual budgets come in at. If you underestimate and come up short you not allowed to raise the needed revenue to pay the bill," explained Bernhardt.
But, taxpayers are mad and want the school corporation to cut costs. They asked questions about the paving and resurfacing of parking lots, bus transportation, computer purchases, benefits for current and past board members and superintendents.
"I am well aware of taxes and understand everyone's concerns," stated Bernhardt. "Unfortunately until the state legislature makes changes those are the rules you operate under, " he added.
The conversation revolved around consolidation throughout the meeting.
The superintendent explained the corporation was operating at a bare minimum in order to offer the programs and services they currently offer. When asked again about consolidation of the four county schools, he explained.
"In just about any corporation where they are consolidated, if you explore the number of second level jobs, its the same number of people administratively. At South Putnam, we have one principal managing two elementary buildings. We've eliminated an assistant superintendent and eliminated an athletic director," he explained.
"If you want to lower property taxes, buildings are what cost the money,"he told the audience. "Debt does not disappear but maintenance costs do."
Several audience members asked why they could not send 50 students to Cloverdale and 50 students to Greencastle and drop the senior class. Suggestions were made to let the school's buildings be repossessed.
"Let them get repossessed, because that's what is going to happen to my house," stated an angry woman.
Another suggested the school be sold to someone else and turned into condos like the old high school in Greencastle.
Bernhardt attempted to explain the breakout of funding between the general fund, transportation fund and school bus fund but was constantly interrupted. One audience member even stood up and accused him of giving too involved an explanation in an attempt to confuse people.
"These people here are suffering from property taxes. They are having to pay now. Did you cut the budget any" asked another audience member.
Bernhardt also responded to past fiscal issues which were questioned.
"We all know that the corporation has had issues stemming from several years ago regarding a bad situation with overspending of the budget. This caused the taxes to go up 30 percent three years ago," he reported.
Audience members went on to question the corporations purchase of new computers. One member questioned the amount spent and the maintenance fees attached to it.
"The school took out a million dollar technology loan to purchase computers for the schools including the two towers that interconnect the network between the buildings," stated Bernhardt.
Bernhardt and the board listened patiently and tried to answer questions by the audience which were sometimes heated accusations including that kids can't read.
Bernhardt asked the audience members to look at the school corporation's ISTEP scores (the state standard).
"The facts stand for themselves. We doing a super job here at South Putnam. I'll stand behind the numbers. Our teachers do a great job. We have done a great job with our ISTEP scores."
Bernhardt and the board agreed to provide as much information as possible at the September school board meeting regarding all their questions.
The meeting ended with newly elected board member Darwin Nelson thanking the audience for coming and asking questions.
"This is what America is all about," he stated. "We may not agree but we have the right to talk about it. We are really lucky to be able to do this."
In other business, the board approved the following personnel changes:
* The resignations of Elizabeth Sollars, Cathy Herrin, Margaret Quigley and Patricia Potts at the high school; and Maggie Lewis at Central Elementary.
* An extended maternity leave for Deanne Blankenship at the high school.
* Hiring Cory Tinsley, Lisa Sumpter, Stephanie Schopmeyer, Margaret Quigley, Marty Scott and Valerie Bain at the high school and Jennifer Wilson at Reelsville Elementary.
In other business, Bernhardt announced there was a surplus of 100 outdated computers which are available to anyone who is willing to come and get them.
The school board will next meeting for its regular monthly session at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20 at Central Elementary.
The meeting is open to the public.