Schools face serious budget issues
Lawmakers often say education is top priority when it comes to creating the state's budget.
Those claims may soon be tested.
Legislators have a challenge on their hands in the legislative session beginning in January. They will attempt to come up with an education-friendly, balanced two-year budget despite the slumping economy.
"The big challenge," says State Rep. Nancy Michael (D-Greencastle), "will be getting schools the money that was approved to them."
School districts across Indiana are facing increased costs for salaries, health insurance and day-to-day operations. They are worried flat or declining state tax revenues could lead to consequences such as teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.
"If we have to make cuts, we have to make them," said Greencastle Community School Corp. Superintendent Bob Green. "I don't know what else to do. We will protect the classroom instruction as much as possible."
Revenue growth in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which began July 1, is flat. The state government was bracing itself for the Dec. 11 revenue forecast, fearing money coming in will remain stagnant or worse -- decline.
They can cut spending in some areas and give increases to priorities such as education. They can give no increases to education and leave school districts the challenge of figuring out how to cope with rising costs or they can dip into the state's rainy day fund and hope the economy gets better.
There are no good answers, but lawmakers have until April 29 to decide who gets what, which means setting some serious priorities.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has proclaimed no tax increase.
He has also said no to budgetary gimmicks such as delaying payments to schools or raiding the pension funds and wants lawmakers to keep their hands off the rainy day fund.
Although Indiana has $1.4 billion in that fund, Daniels has said, "our objective will be to preserve the reserves we have."
House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend), frankly stated, "This is a rainy day."
School districts all over Indiana are trying to avoid being blindsided when legislation passes the final budget.
"It is prudent for Indiana schools to make plans," South Putnam Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt told school board members during the December meeting.
Unfortunately, other states are facing an economic hurricane and have been implementing the painful cuts Indiana is trying to avoid.
The difference between Indiana and other states is Indiana has simply spent less money in the past four years.
Local school districts are still concerned about the unknown consequences coming in April.