Closing Reelsville School might be only option
As costs continue to rise and income continues to fall, the South Putnam School Board discussed a plan that could potentially eliminate the corporation's financial issues -- closing Reelsville Elementary School.
In what seemed would be a relatively short meeting on Monday, turned into almost two hours with an hour of parents voicing their concerns on the matter.
Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt started the discussion by explaining how the financial problems arose. In 2008 the state changed the general fund in the school corporation. In previous years, Bernhardt said, property taxes helped with the general fund now, only state revenues go into the general fund.
"Property taxes are a more stable choice of income," explained Bernhardt. "When (bad) economic times hit state dollars decrease and schools get less funding."
Bernhardt went on to explain that as no surprise to anyone, the economy decreased school funds in not only the South Putnam Community School Corporation but all over Indiana. Last year alone, the school corporation was forced to take a mid-year cut from the state of $350,000.
"Many school corporations ran into serious problems," Bernhardt explained. "We've been fiscally sound the last few years."
The school corporation has always made sure to spend within its means. As most school corporations ran into problems early, South Putnam maintained a higher cash balance in the general fund than most.
In 2009-2010 the corporation had a 12-14 percent cash balance while most school corporations had a balance of 8-10 percent. In 2010 the balance dropped a bit to 10-12 percent. As the 2011 school year is coming to an end, the balance is projected to be only 5-6 percent on Dec. 31.
"We're spending about half of our cash balance," Bernhardt said. "We're spending quickly, we had hoped the economic downturn would stop and level off at some point."
Not only did the board hope for the economy to recover but the members had also hoped the student population would increase. This year alone, the school corporation has lost 66 students. The previous year only 28 were lost. But, with the continued loss of students, this year alone the corporation lost $400,000 in state funding.
"We've had a continual decline of students and that affects our funding," said Bernhardt. "We're at a point now where we need to make some changes."
Bernhardt explained that after researching the facts, one of the best ways to help eliminate the increasing costs would be closing Reelsville Elementary, if it proves to be the best option.
"We have the space available at Central (Elementary School) with some changes to move the population here," Bernhardt explained.
Reelsville Elementary opened in 1954 and is currently home to 184 students. Fillmore Elementary has a total of 150 students with Central Elementary housing 245 students.
Closing Reelsville would help eliminate the rising costs by reducing staff as well as utilities and maintenance costs. Currently, the corporation is paying $95,737 a year for utilities at Reelsville. Closing the school would save more than $500,000 annually.
In order for the closure to happen, there would possibly need to be a transfer of all cooperative education classes to Fillmore Elementary.
The biggest concern for parents was that the sixth grade would be forced to move into the junior high as it is also combined with the high school. Many parents fear that the children are not ready to be exposed to the high school mentality at such a young age as well as fearing the lack of space available for the children to learn.
"These are issues we need to look at," said Bernhardt. "I understand clearly the emotional attachments."
The board listened to the concerns of the community and welcomed parents who wanted further information to contact them. However, Bernhardt along with the board explained that the fact of the matter is, the school corporation will be broke in a few years if spending is not drastically reduced.
"Anywhere we can conserve money we obviously want to do it," said Bernhardt. "These are factual numbers that we need to address, sooner rather than later."
Between all three elementary schools there are only four sixth-grade classes, which may be small enough to combine into three reasonable class sizes.
"We are attempting to work as financially lean as we can," said Bernhardt. "There's still a mountain of details that will have to be addressed."
After looking at the trends, it is known the corporation is graduating more students than it is bringing in. South Putnam has also not gained students in the last 10 years.
"We are concerned," explained school board president Michael Rissler. "We want to do what's best for our students."
At this time the board has not made any decisions. If this does pass it is unknown when it will go into effect.
The board also approved the hiring of four new coaches, Ben Latham as freshman boys' basketball coach, Ryan Gillman as eighth-grade boys' basketball coach, Anna Kendall as assistant boys' and girls' swim coach as well as Pat Pistelli as the assistant wrestling coach at the high school.
The board also accepted the resignation of Steve Ricketts as technology director. Ricketts' resignation will go into effect Friday, Dec. 2 as he plans on taking a position as the overall director of education for 5 Star Technologies.