MAKING CENTS: School spending, funding no longer a mystery

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series that will explain school funding cuts against decisions to maintain, renovate and grow schools in Whitley County.School has started for Whitley County’s three school districts — Whitley County Consolidated Schools, Smith-Green Community Schools and Whitko Community Schools. As the battle for the best deal on back-to-school items plays out for parents in retail establishments, school administrators are waging war each day to fight for education dollars.The work put in to secure money for schools is often done behind the scenes, and to the average parent, tax payer and county resident, it may seem that school funds are a mysterious element known only to state officials and elected leaders.Truthfully, those put in charge of Whitley County’s school systems are experts on education dollars. Years of experience and many worn-down pencils have earned them the label of “authority” when it comes to knowing how to navigate school budgets.For those Whitley County residents who see their students walk through school doors each day, or for those who watch tax dollars deplete their bank accounts, school funding and education dollars might be a sore subject.One might be inclined to raise a fist with the left hand, while scratching their head with their right.This four-part series hopes to lessen the confusion and frustration on school funding.——In 2009, the state of Indiana decided to fully invest in the General Fund category for Indiana schools. This fund mainly covers salaries for certified and non-certified staff as well as benefits. Prior to 2009, the General Fund was controlled on a local level and was fueled in part by county property taxes.Steve Clason, Whitko Community Schools (WCS) superintendent said, “This category is state-funded and is no longer funded out of property taxes. The state determines a certain dollar amount the schools will get for each student enrolled. For schools in Whitley County, that equals about $5,000-$6,000 per student.”Adam Baker, with the Indiana Department of Education, said state tuition for schools is determined by a funding formula which comes from the Indiana Code. Funding is calculated on a state tuition support worksheet and uses several variables including enrollment.The department of education has predetermined categories in which a school can spend. Five of the major fund categories include:•General Fund is funded by the state and exists primarily to cover certified staff salaries, non-certified staff salaries, benefits for staff, contracted services and insurance.•Transportation Fund which covers bus drivers’ wages, mechanic wages, benefits, fuel and repairs. This category is funded from property taxes.•Bus Replacement Fund was revised in 2009 by the state legislature to extend the life of a school bus from 10 years to 12 years. This category is property tax-funded and is used solely for the purpose of purchasing or leasing school buses.•Capital Projects Fund is the category which schools can use to pay for utilities, benefits, technology equipment and repair, building equipment and repair as well as grounds maintenance. This category is funded by local property taxes.•Debt Service Fund is property tax-based and is used to repay bonds issued for approved debt. This is mainly for the expense of new school buildings or renovations.These categories are set from the state level by elected officials and representatives.Read more of the story in today's issue of The Post and Mail