SE Dubois feasibility study comes to an end

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — Leaders at the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation have some big decisions to make in the next few weeks.

At its meeting Wednesday, the school board heard a presentation on the results of the financial feasibility study that Brookston-based Administrator Assistance has been conducting since December. The study looked at the corporation’s financial situation and community concerns to come up with recommendations for administrators. The study came up with two major options: run a property tax referendum or continue current financial operations while looking for places to make cuts.

Superintendent Jamie Pund emphasized this morning that the school board and leadership team have not made a decision on which option to pursue. They just received the study results this week and will need time to review and discuss them.

“We know that we need to act pretty quick,” Pund said. “But we also want to make sure we’re doing it right and being thorough as we make our decisions.”

The study provides plenty for school leaders to think about. The report listed 11 areas of concern within the corporation: diminishing positive cash flow as opposed to expenses; attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers and staff; comparatively low administration and staff compensation; excessive cost of staff contribution for insurance benefits; lack of sufficient insurance reserve; shrinking education fund balance and rainy day fund balance; coordination of curriculum throughout the corporation; aging of the current facilities and need for modern security updates; changing demographics; declining enrollment; and limited staffing in the areas of curriculum, technology and mental/physical health.

The root of many of the corporation’s struggles is declining funding in the education fund — which covers daily expenditures related to education, including teacher salaries and benefits — due to declining enrollment and the school’s demographics. Schools’ education funds are funded through the Indiana state budget on a per child basis. The more students a school corporation has, the more money it receives from the state.

Tuition also includes a complexity grant that takes into account students’ special needs, such as medical needs, poverty and English language learners. At Southeast Dubois, not many students qualify for complexity grant funds, leading to the school corporation receiving less in tuition dollars per student than other area schools, according to the study.

Enrollmentwise, the study found that enrollment in Southeast Dubois schools has declined by 29 students over the last five years, which equates to about $165,000 in lost revenue in the education fund annually. To make up for the loss, the corporation has tapped into its rainy day fund, which is funded through transfers from the school’s operation fund — which is funded through property taxes and covers facilities maintenance, school buses and bus drivers and other non-education related expenses.

To get a full picture of the corporation’s financial situation in regard to the education fund, Joan Keller, a consultant with Administrator Assistance, looked at the end-of-year balances in both the education fund and the rainy day fund over the last few years. The balance in the rainy day fund — which functions as a sort of savings account for the corporation — has been decreasing each year as it’s tapped to supplement the education fund.

“It’s rather risky to think you want to live on your rainy day fund,” Keller said.

Keller’s financial analysis also found that Southeast Dubois has not been collecting its maximum property tax levy. To remedy that, Keller suggested requesting more funds when the corporation goes through the budgeting process with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. Pund said that is something the corporation will look into but noted that the corporation already requests more funds than the Department of Local Government Finance approves. The way the budgeting process works is that school corporations submit budgets to the DLGF, who then reviews them, sets the tax levy and requires cuts.

“It’s something that is out of our control,” Pund said. “We’re basically told what we’ll be given.”

Keller’s analysis also found that Southeast Dubois receives less tuition funding from the state per student than other county school corporations. In 2019, for example, Southeast Dubois received $5,493.91 per student. Meanwhile, Greater Jasper received $5,612.12, Northeast Dubois received $5,523.64 per student and Southwest Dubois received $5,760.40.

The discrepancy is due to the complexity grant the state awards to schools with a larger population of students with special needs, and while it’s outside of local control, it’s something for school leaders to keep in mind as they evaluate their corporation’s situation, Keller said.

Regardless of whether the corporation chooses to pursue a referendum or to maintain current funding structures, Keller said, the study recommends putting together a marketing campaign to advertise the corporation’s strengths and involves the community. Keller noted that the corporation has a lot to be proud of and that the community is proud of the schools.

“People in your community are extremely proud of your schools, your students and what you’ve been able to accomplish,” Keller said.

The other big area of concern was in staff compensation packages compared to other area schools. According to the study, employees at Southeast Dubois pay significantly more out of pocket for their health insurance plans than employees at other corporations, and their salaries are lower as well. The study recommended that the school board and administrators look into how they might adjust the benefits package to make it more competitive and to build up the reserves within the health insurance plan.

Pund agreed that salaries and benefits are something the corporation needs to evaluate.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Over the next few weeks, Pund and the school board will review and discuss the report and recommendations from Administrator Assistance. Pund said she expects the board to make some decisions at the May board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6.

The school board also:

Approved a resolution to continue paying corporation employees their regular wages during an emergency school closure.

Approved the business office to pay all claims during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The action is required by the Indiana State Board of Accounts to assure that bills can be paid in the event the school board can’t meet.

Heard that the school is continuing to provide food service to families who sign up via a weekly form that Superintendent Jamie Pund sends to parents. Meals can be picked up weekly on Tuesdays at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School and Pine Ridge Elementary.

Approved Psi Iota Xi community service sorority to host a summer speech program at Ferdinand and Pine Ridge elementary schools.

Approved the resignations of administrative assistant Stephanie Bolling, and fifth grade boys basketball coach Phillip Wolf and sixth grade girls basketball coach Nicole Hopf at Cedar Crest Intermediate School.

Approved hiring business teacher Grant Welp at Forest Park, temporary teacher Sharon Meyer for the corporation, and administrative assistant Colleen Murdock and teacher Cayden Knies at Cedar Crest.

Approved the following donations: $300 from Psi Iota Xi for the Forest Park musical; a $1,165 grant from the Forest Park Rangers boys and golf endowment for the Forest Park golf programs; $4,000 from Chris and Dawn Tretter for Forest Park golf usage of the Fair-Weather Indoor Golf; an anonymous donation of $50 to Ferdinand Elementary for student accounts; and $200 from Lueken Dairy Farm, $50 from Schnell Pork Farms and $25 from John Deere Tractor Services for the Forest Park FFA.

Approved a lease with the Town of Ferdinand to use the ball fields at the town’s parks.




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