VIgo schools will advertise budget of $165.9 million

Sep. 18—The Vigo County School Board gave the administration permission to advertise a $165.9 million 2024 budget, which will appear today on Gateway, Indiana's public access website.

The overall budget includes the education fund at $103.5 million; operations, $42.9 million; debt service, $11.1 million; and referendum fund, $8.4 million.

Last year's proposed budget was $168 million, and the final budget approved by the state was $162 million.

The education fund is state funded, while the operations, debt service and referendum funds are supported by local property taxes.

The maximum estimated funds to be raised from local property taxes is $47.3 million, although the district typically advertises high, with adjustments made by the state later in the process.

The current total approved tax levy is $42.7 million; last year, it was advertised at $49.5 million.

"Remember that we are setting budget parameters tonight and our proposal of a $47.3 million levy is merely that — an estimate of the maximum tax levy based on our funding and expenditure estimates," Donna Wilson, chief financial officer, told the school board Monday evening.

When the state Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) finalizes the budget later this year, levies will be reduced to reflect final assessed values, circuit breaker losses [property tax caps] and maximum levy allowances.

What people are typically most concerned about is the impact on tax rates.

Based on assessed value assumptions, the district is proposing a combined rate of $1.23 per $100 assessed value, up 1 cent from last year's proposed rate.

"In fact, when finalized, we anticipate the approved 2024 tax rate to be very similar to our current combined rate of 97.46 cents" per $100 assessed value, Wilson said.

Tax rates over the past five years have remained steady, Wilson said. "With nominal assessed value increases, we expect the tax rate for 2024 to be very consistent yet again," she said.

The board will conduct a public hearing on the budget Oct. 9, with budget adoption to take place Oct. 23.

Both Wilson and Superintendent Chris Himsel pointed to the funding challenges posed by property tax caps.

The 2024 circuit breaker tax cap loss estimate used in the budget is $8.8 million; that estimate is provided by the DLGF.

Property tax caps impact the operations fund, which pays for capital projects, transportation costs and school bus replacement.

"That's where we have this disconnect of trying to figure out how do you maintain your buildings. How do we make sure we have an appropriate bus fleet? How do we make sure our bus drivers are appropriately paid and competitively paid?" Himsel said after the meeting. "How do we make sure we have computer resources? Those are all things that come out of that operations fund."

The district has been using short-term general obligation bonds each year to help address various needs in response to property tax cap losses.

Himsel settling in

At the meeting's conclusion, Himsel said Monday marked his 80th day as the VCSC superintendent.

He outlined some of the things he's hoping to accomplish, which include continuing efforts to create a healthy, safe learning environment for all students.

"We understand we've got work to do ... we've already begun that work," he said.

Rachel's Challenge, a program that aims to improve school culture and prevent school violence, bullying and self harm, is a first step, he said.

He also outlined the need for a district facilities study that will identify the cost of bringing each facility up to the community's expectations. A facilities study was done previously, but it was based on pre-Covid market forces.

"We need to update that so it is based on post-Covid market forces, as well as recognizing the work we've already done" on facilities, he said.

The second part of the study involves looking at what it will cost to maintain facilities once they've been upgraded to meet community expectations.

Himsel also said there is a need to update a demographic study and to update financial projections for the next decade.

Updating financial projections will look at changes in market forces; what the district will receive in new state funding; and the impact of a new teacher's contract and agreements with other employee groups.

He also talked about modernizing tools to communicate with parents and the community, especially when it needs to be done quickly.

New communications officer

Under personnel, the board approved hiring Katie Shane as the district's chief communications officer. Her annual salary is $83,200 on a 260-day contract.

She will handle all school district communications, including news media and social media. In addition, she will be responsible for internal as well as external communications with school families and the Vigo County community.

She had been serving as part-time interim communications director on a contractual basis.

Health & wellness grant

In other matters, the board approved a major grant that addresses student health and wellness.

The district has been awarded a $98,600 per year grant for the next five years to implement programming aimed at improving the health and well-being of school-age children and adolescents.

The funds will enable the district's Coordinated Health Program to continue its work at Franklin Elementary and also to expand to 75% of VCSC schools.

The district was selected by the Indiana Department of Health to receive the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, called "School-Based Interventions to Promote Equity and Improve Health, Academic Achievement and Well-Being of Students."

VCSC programming will include a faculty/educator fitness challenge; nutrition/health eating after-school clubs; lunchroom taste tests; K-3 book baskets to build resiliency and social competency; and professional development mental health workshops.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter at @TribStarSue.