SE Dubois pursues property tax referendum


FERDINAND — When voters within the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation go to the polls in November, a decision about the future of the school district will be on the ballot.

At its meeting Wednesday night, the school board voted unanimously to place an operating tax referendum on the ballot to bolster the corporation’s education fund. The action was a recommendation from the financial feasibility study Administrator Assistance of Brookston conducted for the corporation.

An operating tax referendum is the pathway for school districts and their communities to take some local control of school funding by increasing revenue for school corporations through a property tax increase.

According to the referendum question the board approved Wednesday, if it passes, the referendum will allow the corporation to levy up to an additional 19 cents per $100 of assessed value each year for eight years — 2021 to 2028. The corporation can levy less than 19 cents if the full amount is not needed. For the median home in Dubois County, the increase works out to at most $145.34 annually (assuming tax credits have been applied), according to a talking points document put together by Southeast Dubois Superintendent Jamie Pund.

The additional funding will be used for academic and education-related programs, maintaining current class sizes, recruitment and retention of staff, and school safety and mental health resources, the question says.

The school corporation has been in deficit spending for several years due to falling enrollment and changes to school funding at the state level that began in 2009. State tuition funds the education fund, which pays for expenses related to education, including teacher salaries and benefits, and is awarded on a per student basis with additional funds given through a complexity grant that takes into account special needs such as disabilities and poverty, as well as high academic achievement at the high school level.

In the last five years, enrollment at Southeast Dubois has declined by 29 students, according to the findings from the feasibility study. That works out to a revenue loss of about $165,000 per year.

Southeast Dubois also doesn’t have a lot of students with special needs or below the poverty line, which means the corporation receives less dollars per student than schools with higher numbers of students in those categories. Those factors combined with falling enrollment make Southeast Dubois one of the lowest-funded school corporations per student in the state and the lowest funded in Dubois County, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

“We cannot continue to operate in this manner and continue to provide the current programs,” Pund wrote in the talking points document. “The corporation must either create additional revenue or reduce programs and staff to stay within the confines of the education fund revenue.”

That reality and the feedback from the public during the feasibility study led the school board to decide to pursue a referendum.

“Everybody made it clear they don’t want us to cut any programs,” Board President Kent Uebelhor said.

While the board realizes the economy is suffering right now, this fall still seemed like the best time to put the referendum on the ballot. There is no election in 2021, so the next opportunity to place a referendum on a ballot would be May 2022, unless the corporation called for a special election in 2021. In that case, the school corporation would be responsible for all the costs of running the election. Waiting until May 2022 would also mean a longer wait for the additional funds if the referendum passed. If it passes this fall, the school corporation will begin receiving the funds in May 2022. Waiting until 2022 to put the referendum on the ballot would push receipt of the funds to 2024.

Southeast Dubois is not the first school corporation in Dubois County to place a property tax referendum on the ballot. Northeast Dubois also ran a referendum in 2015, which ultimately passed. That referendum is set to expire in 2023.

The board also:

• Approved a resolution authorizing the corporation to make an Advance Funding tax anticipation warrant for a temporary loan with the Indiana Bond Bank to meet current expenses for the use of the debt service, pension debt and operations funds. The action allows the corporation to participate in a loan program from the state to cover payments that will need to be made prior to the second property tax payout. Schools are receiving the payouts about a month later than usual due to the property tax collection delay Indiana implemented in response to COVID-19.

• Approved a transfer of funds from the rainy day fund to the preschool fund. The preschool programs at Pine Ridge and Ferdinand elementary schools are funded through tuition paid by families, but the programs often run a deficit that is covered by the rainy day fund.

• Approved eliminating two preschool leader positions, one at Pine Ridge and one at Ferdinand. The action is meant to bring the preschool program out of deficit spending.

• Approved the 2021 budget calendar.

• Approved bonds for corporation treasurers. The extracurricular activity treasurers at the elementary schools and Cedar Crest Intermediate will be bonded at $5,000 each; the extracurricular activity treasurer at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School will be bonded at $10,000; and the corporation business manager and deputy treasurer will be bonded at $50,000 each. The bonding protects the school corporation against financial crimes.

• Approved conflict of interest statements for staff and board members.

• Approved transferring funds as necessary to balance appropriations and close out the 2019-20 fiscal year.

• Adopted new Spanish and German textbooks for Forest Park.

• Approved summer school staff. Annette Applegate will lead the supervised agriculture education program, and Kathy Hopf will lead credit recovery courses. School secretaries will also work during the summer.

• Approved the following resignations: special education teacher Olivia Schilling; junior high boys soccer coach Don Foerster; teacher Katie Buening; special education bus monitor Carolyn Oeding; assistant boys track coach Greg Fraze; eighth grade girls volleyball coach Tara LaGrange; assistant boys golf coach John Bertges; and instructional assistants Amy Bockelman, Chad Hoppenjans, Emily Oeding, Martha Smith and Macy Shawver.

• Approved hiring special education teacher Whitney Williams at Ferdinand Elementary, and varsity volleyball coach Tara LaGrange at Forest Park.

• Approved school lunch prices for 2020-21. Elementary school lunches will be $2.25, and junior and senior high school lunches will be $2.40.

• Approved several donations: an anonymous $150 donation to Ferdinand Elementary for school supplies; 150 face shields for personal protection equipment from Kimball; $150 from Sylvester and Anna Voges for the Randy Voges Memorial Scholarship; $1,000 from the Linda Bettag Berg Nursing Scholarship; $34.56 from Gregg and Kathy Wilmes, $500 from Betty Knust, $147.45 from Greg and Jill Sicard, $200 in memory of Jim Olinger, $500 from the Iota Lambda Chapter of Psi Iota Xi, $500 from Ron and LouAnn Weyer, $10.75 from George and Shelly Buechler, $21.50 from Dean and Courtney Fehribach, $20.60 from Columbine Edwards, $13.50 from Richard and Patti Schwartz, $9.80 from Ryan and Allison Treat, $5.90 from Vic and Mary Jo Schroeder and $40.60 from Donald and Kim Mohr for the Southeast Dubois Food Service program, which has been providing meals to students in need during the COVID-19 school closures.

• Heard that thanks to an outpouring of donations, the school corporation will be able to continue providing meals to students in need over the summer months. This will be the first time the corporation has provided meals during the summer.

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