The $6.5 million question – Muncie Community Schools referendum-update

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“For the seven calendar years immediately following the hold of the referendum, shall the Muncie Community Schools impose a property tax rate that does not exceed 39.39 ($0.3939) cents on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property tax levies imposed by the Muncie Community Schools.”

The vote is Yes or No.

On the Yes side, all the taxpayers and citizens have been offered is “Keeping children safe.”  Who in their right mind doesn’t want to keep children safe?  Not anybody I know, probably not anyone you know, either.  The Facebook page “Vote Yes for Muncie School Buses” has detailed how much the cost would be on a $100,000 home without deductions.  The referendum would add $394.00 or $33.00 a month.

“VOTE YES IN NOVEMBER! It will give center township residents the option to raise taxes ($0.3939) cents on each $100 of assessed valuation. By doing this it will allow yellow school buses to run! THIS IS LESS THAN A TANK OF GAS A MONTH TO KEEP KIDS SAFE!!”

Sounds do-able for most, we can all add $33.00 to our monthly budget for the next seven years.

Consider this.  Muncie’s tax rate in 2012 was $4.4018 and in 2013 Muncie’s tax rate is 5.1222.  An increase of .7204 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation.  A property valued at $100,000 will see an increase of $720.00.  Now add the .3939 of Muncie Schools referendum should it pass, $394.00 for a total increase of $1,114.00.    The picture is not so rosy after all.  With the caps in place at 2% (rental) and no deductions allowed, the maximum amount of taxes one would pay is $2,000.00.

However, the Muncie Community Schools referendum falls outside the caps, so one could expect to pay $2,394.00 a year in taxes.

Muncie Community Schools ranked #4 in the State of Indiana for expenditure per student.  In 2011 Muncie Community Schools cost $17,761 and in 2012 $17,091.

MUNCIE — Last year, the average Muncie Community Schools administrator made $97,462. The average teacher made $47,731.

You don’t have to be a math teacher to see that’s quite a gap between salaries. In fact, that $49,731 difference is the fourth biggest gap among districts statewide.

If that were the only equation impacting the budget, it might be easy to absorb. But consider this: The Muncie Schools administrator-to-student ratio is 1 administrator per 170 students. The national average is 1 to 761.

All those numbers boil down to one telling anomaly — 90 percent of the district’s entire budget goes to salary and benefits, far more than state and national statistics. The district currently pays out about $44 million in salaries each year and $24 million in benefits.

Bigger salaries, higher ratio of administrators driving Muncie school budget up Star Press 4-8-12

MCS per capita copy

Note:  Updates:

2010-2011 Page 58 DLGF Report Update

del schools per capita 2010-2011 Update

2014 Budget adoption Includes referendum, transportation and bus replacement $8,036,000.00 Update

Currently, I am still trying to locate the 2013 report, but according to the 2012 report Muncie was the 2nd highest in the State of Indiana for cost per student.   The 2013 report has the school at #4.

Superintendent Heller has repeatedly stated MCS is receiving fewer funds.  As it should because the enrollment has had a steady decrease for the past decade.  Update:  Muncie Community Schools has had a decline in enrollment for 26 years straight.    No school should receive funds if the student has transferred to another district.   A more in-depth explanation can be found below:

These programs, while beneficial for districts with declining enrollments, left less money to be distributed among the remaining districts. Because the formula was using an average of past enrollments, instead of current enrollments, to determine per pupil funding, the money was not directly following the students. Therefore, the formula disadvantaged school districts with quickly growing enrollments. In short, Indiana school districts with rapidly growing student populations found themselves receiving less General Fund money per pupil, while simultaneously experiencing higher costs.

In 2010, this issues prompted three school districts experiencing growing enrollments to initiate a lawsuit against the State of Indiana, alleging that the current formula lacked uniformity and negatively impacted school districts with increasing enrollments by failing to provide a level of funding adequate to meet current educational requirements (Hamilton Southeastern Schools et al. v. Daniels, 2010). Franklin Township Community School Corporation was one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. The state responded to the lawsuit by adjusting the funding formula, including eliminating the restoration grant and the deghoster. The lawsuit was subsequently withdrawn in 2011.

Source: Eliminating K-12 Public School Student Transportation as a Cost-Saving Measure Author(s): Lori G. Boyland and Walter D. Bourke Affiliation: Ball State University and Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents

Muncie Community Schools is not alone when it comes to having a decrease in funding.  As property values decline, less local tax dollars are available.  However, many schools have met challenges which surpass MCS’ financial issues by seriously looking at cost cutting and streamlining the schools.  Unfortunately, Muncie Community Schools has not.

With a declining enrollment, knowledge of decrease tax dollars, and a high debt accrual, MCS has done little in the way of consolidating schools or controlling capital improvements.    With opportunities to sell property, they continued to hold tightly to assets no longer needed.  As clearly stated in the article, Muncie has one of the highest rankings for administrators to student ratio in the nation.

Yet, we see a strong push towards “Protecting the children”, in my opinion, this is nothing more than an emotionally charged piece of propaganda in an effort to continue spending.  I doubt there isn’t a person reading this which hasn’t adjusted their budget.  Government entities seem to feel they are immune.

The following bills were passed to address such things as school bus transportation:

Bill 1072 (Public Law 137-2012) addressed the practice of tax rates being lowered due to decreased local assessed valuation, which was negatively impacting school districts’ Capital Funds. House Bill 1072 also proposed that qualifying school districts be allowed to apply for interest-free loans from the state’s General Fund in order to recover revenue lost in their district’s 2012 Capital Project Fund based on the lowered assessed valuation

House Bill 1192 (Public Law 145-2012) also addressed several financial issues for public schools, including creating a Distressed Unit Appeal Board, under which school districts can appeal for financial modification. Once qualified, a “distressed” school district can apply for a low-interest loan from the state’s Rainy Day fund and can also become eligible for debt restructuring, which can extend debt further into the future, thus lowering monthly payments.

Furthermore, HB 1192 addressed the emerging transportation issue by proposing that it be permissible for school districts to spend monies from the General Fund on transportation, which was not allowed in the past. Most significantly for Franklin Township Schools, this bill proposed that school districts be required to maintain a school-provided transportation program for regular home-to-school busing. The bill’s language recommended that if a school board wished to cancel school-provided transportation, that decision must be made and patrons informed at least three-years in advance, or a waiver must be requested from the Indiana Department of Education.

House Bill 1134 (PL 140-2012) also spoke directly to the Franklin Township transportation situation by offering language that prohibited parents or guardians from being charged a fee for transportation to and from school if the transportation is school-provided or contracted out to an educational service center (CEEP, 2012b). All three bills passed and were signed into law by the Governor in March 2012, leading to a change in the transportation policies at Franklin Township. The school district reinstated school-provided transportation services to and from school for all students effective in August for the 2012-2013 school year.

Source: Eliminating K-12 Public School Student Transportation as a Cost-Saving Measure Author(s): Lori G. Boyland and Walter D. Bourke

The decision to vote yes or no is a personal one and unique to the individual.  My belief is that one should have all the facts to cast an informed vote.  For me, $6.5 million a year for seven years demands more information than what’s been told us.

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