Tax talk concerns school board

Friday, November 16, 2007

With talk about abolishing property taxes flying around the Indiana Statehouse, educators are concerned how the loss of such a stable revenue source will affect their operations.

The Greencastle School Board discussed the possibilities with Supt. Robert Green, who said he has been monitoring the discussions and is trying to keep the board updated so they can plan responsibly for the future.

State leaders have looked at removing the general operating fund from the local property tax system, and they are looking at state sales tax and income tax as revenue sources.

Taking the general fund off the state tax role and determine how that would be funded.

Greencastle's General Fund is $12 million-plus per year, Green said, and local taxpayers pick up about half of that amount. Additional revenue comes from excise taxes and miscellaneous revenue.

Green said his biggest concern is if the General Fund is out of local control, that hurts the school district's ability to negotiate costs, such as teacher contracts.

"You will not know how much money you will have," Green said, because of the uncertainty of income and sales taxes. If unemployment goes up, that lowers the amount of income taxes collected, and if the economy is in a slump, that will lower income from sales taxes.

"It's scary," board president Mike Dean said, "because you will not know how much money you will have."

"Scary is a good word," Green said.

He pointed out that there are incremental raises for the teachers each year, whether they receive actual pay raises or not. Health insurance costs are also not predictable, and are most likely to increase.

"Whatever they do, I just hope they do it right and they think it through," Green said.

"I just hope it has real numbers behind it," board member Barry Fisher said, noting that in all of the plans presented by lawmakers and taxpayer groups, no one can show definite financial outcomes for a change.

Green said that property tax has historically been a stable unit of funding, but risk will come with the fluctuations of income and sales taxes.

In one proposal, he noted, a Rainy Day Fund was suggested so that if an economic downturn occurs, the school systems won't suffer. An extended downturn, however, can have long-term effects.

Another concern, Green said, is that many experienced officials in school finance have been leaving state government for private sector positions. The loss of those experts is troubling, he said.

"I'm a little concerned when the 'veterans' who know how the system works are not longer going to be there," he said.

In reviewing the financial statement for the end of October, board members Dean, Fisher, Mark Kannowski, Barbara Bryan and Jack Berry heard all funds but one have healthy balances. The capital projects fund will be negative until the December tax draw is received.

Board president Dean commended Green and the central office staff for the financial stability of the school district.

Green said he knew the last few years would be tough financially for the district, but he felt it was important to protect the jobs of the teaching staff to maintain the educational standards for the benefit of the students.

"Things should start to get a little better for us at the start of the year," Green said, but added that he has some concerns about future health insurance costs as well as special education costs.

In other business, the board:

* Learned that high school teacher Vickie Parker was selected as semi-finalist in the Teacher of the Year Award program.

* Approved the tax neutrality resolution for the pension bond fund, which will not increase the tax rate. The effect of the bond issuance is tax neutral.

* Approved the out-of-state field trip to Minneapolis from May 1-4 for the GHS choir students.

* Learned that David Lilly, GHS head boys soccer coach, has donated his $2,505 coaching stipend to benefit the boys soccer program. The board accepted the donation.

* Appointed Barb Bryan to serve as liaison to the Greencastle Park Board.

* Declared some old cafeteria equipment as items of no value so they can be removed.

* Recognized Principal Jim Church for receiving the district Principal of the Year honor.

* Learned that third-graders at Tzouanakis School did a recycling art program at DePauw University involving community bicycles. Green commended the teachers for the lessons and for involving the students in the project.

In personnel matters, the board approved:

* A leave of absence for Paula French from Nov. 7 to the end of the first semester.

* Robin Knapp as substitute teacher for the French absence.

* Jan Eberle as substitute teacher for the Jill Gooch leave of absence during the second semester.

* Michael Glenn as special education instructional assistant.

* Matt McComish as middle school wrestling coach.

* Bryan Gerard as high school volunteer assistant boys basketball lay coach.

* Mark Lewis as high school volunteer assistant boys basketball lay coach.

* Monica Morton as middle school swim lay coach.

* Michael Glenn as middle school assistant swim lay coach.

* Kristin Hendrich as sixth grade girls basketball lay coach.

* The resignation of Kathy Bault as cafeteria assistant at Ridpath Primary School.

* Hiring Irene Mongaraz as cafeteria assistant at Ridpath.

The Greencastle School Board regularly meets at 7:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Miller Education Center, 522 Anderson St., Greencastle. The meetings are open to the public.

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