Schools expect funding boost

HANCOCK COUNTY — Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. is considering adding staff next year as the district’s general fund — money used to pay teacher salaries — moves into the black for the first time since 2010.

Anticipated increases in state funding are leading public school districts across the county to consider curriculum expansions, new hires and construction projects as they craft their annual budgets — with Mt. Vernon leading the way in its plans for growth.

Several variables affect the amount of state funding a district receives — including enrollment, poverty level and property taxes — and local school boards have spent the past few weeks ironing out how they’ll spend the money. Greenfield-Central became the final district to approve its budget Monday.

Administrators admit they inflate their requests to the state in hopes of landing more funding; but across the county, they expect gains over previous years’ budgets because of increased enrollment in three of the county’s four districts.

In Mt. Vernon, the coming school year will mark the first time in years the district will be able to pay many of its day-to-day expenses from its general fund, instead of relying on rainy-day reserve funds.

The district requested the largest increase of all local corporations, asking for roughly $43.5 million, approximately $7 million more than last year’s total.

Brian Tomamichel, business manager for Mt. Vernon, said the general fund will receive a hefty boost thanks to the district’s increased enrollment, a reported 121 students.

Those funds already have been earmarked to pay for staffing additions. Many of those positions were eliminated several years ago when districts across the state were forced to lay off employees amid major cuts in state funding.

“We were operating really slim for a few years there, and now we’re starting to be able to bring some of those positions back,” Superintendent Shane Robbins said.

The district also is considering curriculum expansions and updates to its facilities with the increase in funding, he said.

Mt. Vernon’s capital projects fund, which pays for new construction and renovation projects, also stands to see an increase, Tomamichel said. Robbins said those funds likely will be put toward renovations to the district’s facilities.

“There are a lot of possibilities to address,” Tomamichel said. “But it looks like a bright future for us.”

Other county districts anticipate receiving more modest boosts of $400,000 to $1 million from last year’s budgets.

Administrators from Greenfield-Central have adopted a $53.4 million budget, about $400,000 more than last year. Tony Zurwell, business manager for the district, said the greatest growth will go toward in the corporation’s general fund.

Despite a drop in student enrollment, a major contributing factor to the funds allocated to a district by the state, Greenfield-Central dodged a loss thanks to a new state funding formula that boosts the amount of money distributed to schools for each student, Zurwell said.

“It looks a little better, even with our loss in enrollment,” he said.

The district can’t cut costs in transportation or classroom fees, Zurwell said, because the loss of 15 students among Greenfield-Central’s eight buildings and 42 buses isn’t enough to justify a reduction in the number of classes or routes.

As a general rule, Zurwell said, school districts tend to request more funding than they anticipate receiving because it’s better to aim high than to underestimate need.

Southern Hancock School Corp. requested a $1.1 million bump, most of which will go toward its general fund. No significant projects are planned for district, aside from roof repair at a vacant building that had served as the middle school, assistant superintendent Bob Yoder said.

Administrators from Eastern Hancock School Corp. asked for about $550,000 more in state funding than last year.

Cara Horseman, business manager for Eastern Hancock, said the biggest need is the replacement of a wastewater treatment plant that serves the district’s three schools. She estimates that will cost about $500,000. All school budgets are sent to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance for approval and are expected to be finalized in the coming months.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.