Schools welcome good news delivered by Lt. Gov. Skillman

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More than $1 million will be deposited back into the bank accounts of Putnam County schools this month.

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman flew into Greencastle on Wednesday with this major announcement and more.

"Today I am pleased to announce that the state's checkbook is not only balanced, but we have a surplus," she said. "We have the first honestly balanced budget in years."

This surplus of money the state now has exceeds the amount of money owed to K-12 schools, higher education and local governments for the first time since 2003.

Lt. Gov. Skillman also announced on Wednesday that Gov. Mitch Daniels has ordered the state to fully repay all the debts owed to K-12 schools.

"It was wrong for the state to paper over its deficit spending on the backs of schools. Now that we have restored the state to solvency, it's important to pay these debts back as fast as we possibly can and continue practicing fiscal responsibility so no future state government is tempted to use this unfair tactic again," said Gov. Daniels in a news release that accompanied the lieutenant governor.

This means Greencastle will be receiving $281,009. North Putnam will be getting $306,058 and South Putnam will be receiving $242,970. Cloverdale's delayed payment will be $313,489.

North Putnam School Supt. Murray Pride was appreciative of the new information released on Wednesday.

"We're excited. We have to remember this money is not a windfall. This is money we have budgeted for and sometimes even spent. We are just tickled to have it," Pride said during the ceremony in the Putnam County Courthouse rotunda.

Cloverdale Supt. Carrie Milner said this money was going to be getting the schools caught up in their finances, not jumping ahead.

"Receiving this funding will get us caught up on payments. It will create opportunities for programs and staff members as well. This is good news," Milner said.

South Putnam School Corp.'s Interim Supt. Bruce Bernhardt said that getting back the money they are owed will definitely help out all the schools.

"Having the money we are owed will let us borrow less. Interest rates on the money we borrow will not be so high either. Getting this money will greatly benefit our schools," he said.

Lt. Gov. Skillman also made it clear that this money was not made by any of the proceeds from the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana toll road. Nor was it achieved by any tax increases.

She said the state's turnaround was made possible because of the work of the state legislature on the 2005 budget. It passed the tightest state budget in 55 years and held down the level of spending.

The legislature's work is not done though, Skillman said, and the governor agrees.

"Our work is far from done. We still have debts to pay back and reserves to build. Though agencies responded by holding the line on their budgets this year, we can deliver more efficiencies," Gov. Daniels said. "Public education will be the first to benefit from our return to solvency. As long as we continue to control other spending, we'll clearly have the money to pursue full-day kindergarten in Indiana next year. That will be our first legislative priority."

Rep. Andy Thomas (R-Brazil) stood beside Skillman as she made the announcement on Wednesday and he said he appreciated her personal appearance in Greencastle. He said he is encouraged by the news but he knows there are still obstacles ahead for education.

"There are still many challenges before us but we are heading in the right direction," Thomas said.

Staff writer Kim Puckett also contributed to this article.

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