Putnam County's four superintendents and area school board members laid out a case for the financial fallout area school coffers face in the wake of property tax reform and discussed the challenges that rural school districts face when considering consolidation.
"Property tax issues are front and center for everyone," said Indiana Senator Connie Lawson of district 42, who took an active role in the roundtable discussion Tuesday at Area 30 Career Center.
Also in attendance was District 37 Sen. Richard Bray and state Rep. Amos Thomas of District 44.
Chief concern was the 1 percent cap placed on property tax increases included in Gov. Mitch Daniels' property tax reform proposal. According to Superintendents Robert Green of Greencastle and Bruce Bernhardt of South Putnam, the cap would trigger a "circuit breaker" effect that could be financially devastating to both school districts.
"If that goes into effect, Greencastle will loose $193,000 in 2009 and $194,000 in 2010," Green said.
South Putnam's figures were even more startling. Bernhardt told the visiting legislators that his school district, whose tax base is primarily made up of farmers and homeowners, would lose $375,000 over the same two-year period.
The Putnam County educators presented a unified front, telling the visiting lawmakers that the educational funding base should not be locked into property tax and that local farmers are carrying too much of the weight when it comes to funding local schools.
However, all parties expressed concern that property tax, which is reliable source of tax revenue, would be replaced with a funding stream subject to the mood swings of an unstable economy, such as sales tax.
A second standout issue at Tuesday's forum was Gov. Daniels' proposal that school consolidation, particularly at the administrative level, would funnel much-needed funds from central office salaries back into classrooms.
Murray Pride, superintendent of North Putnam School Corporation, laid out a rebuttal for the Governor's plan, arguing that it would be impossible for one superintendent could meet the needs of the entire county.
"You can't run a school corporation this large and covering this much territory with one person," he said. "We couldn't get one person to take the job."
When compared to Vigo, Clay and Vanderburgh counties, which have all been touted as strong examples of school consolidation, Pride explained that Putnam County's administrative costs were not excessive.
"Compare their central office costs to our central office costs," said Pride. "We are about as lean and mean as we can get."
Cloverdale Superinten-dent Carrie Milner told the lawmakers that the workload for a massive school corporation like Browns-burg, that has as many as 21 people on their central office salary roster, is no different that that of Cloverdale's.
"We fill out the same reports and meet the same state requirements," she said. "But we do it with one person."
According to Pride, the only way to save money through consolidation is to close schools, but he pointed out that Putnam County is in no position to take that measure either. With nearly every school in the county approaching capacity, he said the costly construction of a new building would be the only option available for merging student populations.
Most of the educators in attendance echoed the concern that the benefits of attending a small school would be lost if the county underwent further consolidation.
Representative Thomas chimed in that though he may have less experience dealing with public school financing issues than other legislators, he too believed in the benefits of a small school.
"I may be the only one here who can say that I went through seven grades in a one-room country school," he said. "I'm one who would say that small schools work."
The nearly two-hour discussion between the legislators and educators covered many topics ranging from property taxes to new educational mandates that have yet to receive any additional funding.
Superintendent Pride left the legislators with a final thought to take with them to the Indiana State House in January: "Don't count your money yet. Make sure you know what you're asking for and what you're calling for."
Nancy Wells, a member of the South Putnam School Board, thanked the visiting legislators for their hands-on approach and open ears, adding that when it comes to property tax reform, "I wouldn't want your job for anything."