Vigo County schools to advertise $168 million overall budget for 2023

·4 min read

Sep. 13—The Vigo County School Corp. will advertise an overall $168 million budget for 2023, following action by the school board Monday.

But district officials emphasize that when the process is complete, they expect the final overall budget to be very close to this year's $159.8 million — partly the result of ongoing cost saving measures and strategic use of one-time federal ESSER funds.

The advertised budget is as follows: education fund (state funded), $103.1 million; operations, $40.9 million; debt service, $9.8 million; Rainy Day, $5 million; and referendum fund, $9.2 million.

On Monday, district officials provided an overview of proposed budgets, tax levies and tax rates during the board meeting.

It's the first step in the budget process. A public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 26, with budget adoption slated for Oct. 10. The budget is then reviewed and finalized by by the Department of Local Government Finance.

The overall advertised tax levy is $49.5 million, expected to decrease, and the advertised tax rate is $1.22 per $100 assessed value, which is expected to end up very close to this year's 98.8 cents per $100 assessed value. Last year's advertised rate was $1.20 per $100 AV.

According to Donna Wilson, chief financial officer, "Historically, we advertise a higher tax levy than is approved by the Department of Local Government Finance to achieve an appropriate proportion of available tax revenue."

When the DLGF finalizes the numbers, "We anticipate all of these levies will be reduced to reflect final assessed values, circuit breaker losses [property tax caps] and maximum levy allowances," Wilson said.

The education fund includes all regular and special education instructional expenses, including teacher salaries and benefits; it is funded almost entirely through state tuition support.

The proposed education fund budget of $103.1 million is down somewhat from this year's approved $103.3 million; it includes a cash balance that would be maintained. The district would not spend the entire $103 million, Wilson said in an interview.

The proposed budget for the Rainy Day fund is up from this year's $3.5 million, but there is no planned expenditure of it at this time, Wilson said. She described the fund as the district's savings account, to be used if necessary and with board authorization.

The $5 million is appropriated in a line item for building improvements, and it could be used with board approval if the need arises, Wilson told the board.

The operations fund, which includes transportation, bus purchase, capital expenditures and building maintenance, is supported primarily by local property taxes. While advertised at $40.9 million, "That budget will be substantially reduced," Wilson said in an interview. When the process is complete, she anticipates it will be closer to $36 million.

Growth in the operations fund is limited to a growth quotient put forth by the DLGF, which will be 5%.

The debt service fund budget of $9.8 million includes repayment on debt issuances including a Sarah Scott refunding Bond, Otter Creek lease/rental and three general obligations bonds.

The referendum fund, advertised at $9.2 million and which ends after 2027, provides for teacher salary assistance; maintenance of counseling, nursing and behavior interventionist positions, the school protection officer program and assists with transportation costs.

The referendum tax rate is 16.22 cents per $100 AV.

Wilson anticipates when the budget is finalized, overall figures will "probably be a little bit less" than the 2022 overall budget of $159 million.

While the district this past year was able to provide teacher and staff raises in 2022, and it has faced other increased expenses such as for utilities, "What we're basically saying is in 2023, we will probably not spend any more money than we did in 2022," Wilson said.

That's partly the result of cost reductions and leveraging one-time federal ESSER dollars and bond funds that have been invested in building improvements to reduce ongoing operation costs, she said.

The district is making progress in reducing expenditures so that when the operating referendum does end, district spending will be in line with revenues, with a goal of a 10% cash balance, according to Superintendent Rob Haworth.

"We are definitely making gains in our education fund and operations fund to be able to support those things the referendum is currently supporting," he said in an interview.

District officials emphasize the non-referendum tax rate has remained steady over the past six years, ranging from 79 cents per $100 AV to 82.6 cents in 2022.

The district will have detailed budget books before the Sept. 26 public hearing. The district learned late last week that the county's assessed value is up 7%, which would have a positive impact on final figures.

The budget will be advertised on Gateway Tuesday.