New IN budget hurts Hamilton Community Schools’ bottom line

District faces 12.3 percent decrease starting 2016-2017 school year

HAMILTON, Ind. (WANE) – Schools across Indiana have their estimated budgets for two of the next upcoming school years. While the statewide increase is at 2.3 percent, Hamilton Community Schools will face the biggest cut in the state.

During this year’s Indiana General Assembly, state lawmakers approved a new $31 billion budget. More than 60 percent included school funding. Education will see a more than $156 million increase starting in the 2016-2017 school year, compared to the upcoming year that starts this fall.

Click here to see how the budget impacts each school district in the state.

At the same time, lawmakers reworked the funding formula which determines the base, or foundation, amount each student receives. The formula also includes a complexity side that factors in reduced lunches, among other things.

For the upcoming school year, the base amount per student is $4,397. In 2016, the amount jumps to $4,962, which is an 8.3 percent increase.

Changes to the formula impacted districts differently.

“We’re seeing the urban schools funding come down,” said State Representative Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn. “The rural schools are staying about flat. Then the suburban schools are increasing.”

Smaltz was one of 69 members of the House to vote in favor of the budget. State Senator Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, was one of 40 Senators to vote yes.

Both represent Hamilton.

For Hamilton Community Schools, the formula worked out to an estimated 12.3 percent decrease for the 2016-2017 school year. That’s the largest drop for any district in the state that year.

The district has students from both Steuben and DeKalb Counties. Its average daily attendance, which the state uses to calculate funding, has dropped to under 400 students in K-12. Enrollment has dropped 8.3 percent, the largest drop in the state.

“If the state would have based our enrollment on a later count day we wouldn’t have lost as much money,” Superintendent Jon William said.

The small district has approximately $2.7 million in state funds coming its way starting this fall. The following school year, the number drops by more than $330,000.

William and lawmakers had been in talks before the budget was signed so school leaders knew the decrease was coming. “I’m not pleased with it but we can absorb this 12 percent for a year or two,” he said. “For next year, we’re not planning on any substantial cuts. We are in better shape because of a general fund tax referendum.”

In 2012, 75 percent of voters approved a tax referendum that goes through 2019. William said the money was used for renovations and for previous and future shortcomings in funding.

The district will see a slight uptick in funding in the second year of the new budget. Hamilton will get an estimated $2.38 million for the 2017-2018 school year. Still a lower figure than the district will see starting in the fall.

If funding doesn’t go back up to what it is currently, the district will likely turn to the voters again after 2019 for more money.

“I’m really concerned about Hamilton. Small school corporations have a tend to consolidate with larger schools in the past,” said Smaltz, who referenced DeKalb Central Schools is the result of Waterloo, Ashley, and Auburn all consolidating schools years ago. “I like communities to maintain their identities and that’s Hamilton’s school.”

Glick said Hamilton and the surrounding area will need to bring in more jobs, which should translate to more students and more funding.

“One of the problems we have with the declining enrollment in some areas is the growth is just not there,” said Glick, who has a handful of other districts she represents that are also seeing a drop in funding due to enrollments. “When you don’t have the numbers it is very hard to make up the difference on the complexity side.”

Smaltz chairs the Commerce Committee at the state and hoped more economic development legislation hits the statehouse floor next year.

Besides providing the best education possible, schools play a limited role in economic growth.

“Don’t penalize one school to help another and that’s what they’re kind of doing right now in the state,” William said. “They need to continue to increase state funding for all schools. Give opportunities to all students, regardless of their backgrounds, demographics, and location in the state. It’s not fair to say, we’ve given more money to these schools in the past and we haven’t seen the improvement we want. That’s because it’s a much more difficult situation for those students, teachers, and administrators that it is over at a neighboring school.”

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