Southeast Dubois to embark on financial study


FERDINAND — Administrators at the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation are looking for solutions.

For the last several years, the school has been operating in deficit spending, Superintendent Jamie Pund said, which means administrators have had to repeatedly dig into the corporation’s rainy day fund and other savings to keep the corporation operating at the status quo. That is not sustainable, so the school board approved contracting with Brookston-based consulting firm Administrator Assistance for a financial feasibility study at its meeting Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to find places to save and maybe make some additional funds,” Pund said.

Consultants at Administrator Assistance are all retired school administrators, and they bring their years of experience to the studies to make objective recommendations to the corporations that hire them. The study for Southeast Dubois will look at the school’s finances and financial goals, enrollment projections, and programs the school offers, and make recommendations to help the corporation get out of deficit spending.

Administrator Assistance will meet with stakeholders throughout the community and in a series of public meetings to determine what the community wants from its schools and help administrators figure out how to provide that.

Northeast Dubois contracted with Administrator Assistance for a similar study in 2015 prior to placing a general fund referendum — now called an education fund referendum — on the 2016 ballot. Their referendum passed.

“This consulting group has a lot of experience,” Pund said. “That experience comes as a huge asset to us.”

While the corporation is not in dire straits, Pund said, enrollment has been falling for several years, leading to a consistent loss in state funding since the state allots schools so much per student. 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 number of students in those categories. Those factors combined make Southeast Dubois one of the five lowest funded schools in the state, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

This year, Pund said, the schools received $5,548 per student. Enrollment is 1,241.

“Things are changing for us, and our needs are changing,” Pund said.

Administrators want to be able to continue offering the same level of education and extracurricular programs that they have been, but they need to figure out how to pay for that. If enrollment in the corporation continues declining as it has been and the corporation cannot find other ways to stay competitive, tough decisions will have to be made.

Some of the factors affecting the school’s financial situation are out of school administrators control, particularly enrollment. Without families with school-aged children moving into the corporation, enrollment won’t see significant increases.

That’s where schools rely on their communities for help, particularly with attracting new residents and providing housing options. In his State of the Town address at the Ferdinand Chamber of Commerce banquet Wednesday, Ferdinand Town Council President Ken Sicard spoke about housing developments in the works for the town. Kerstiens Homes & Design of Jasper is developing Country Ridge Estates — a 14-home subdivision — on the town’s north side, and Begle Properties is set to open a second apartment building on the town’s north side in the coming months, Sicard said.

“Hopefully that’s going to bring a lot of children in so we can help out the school,” he said.

As Administrator Assistance conducts their study and the public meetings involved in the process, Pund said she hopes the community will gain a better understanding of school funding mechanisms and the financial challenges facing small, rural schools like Southeast Dubois. With demonstrations like the recent Red for Ed event, Pund said she thinks the general public is becoming more aware of issues facing public education, but she believes there is more schools can do to inform their public. She hopes this study will help Southeast Dubois do that.

“It’s our job as a school corporation to start informing our community about funding and how it flows,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s having a huge impact on our kids. That’s really what matters.”

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