Next May, Brown County voters might be asked to support a property tax increase to help fund the schools and the Career Resource Center.

No decisions have been made on whether a referendum will be placed on the ballot, how much would be asked of taxpayers, or what the money would be used for.

School board conversations have been focused on supporting the CRC and/or the school district’s general fund.

The question for some voters may be: How do the two work together?

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According to Director Dave Bartlett, the relationship continues to grow and evolve to support one of the county’s biggest assets: The students.

The CRC has received local property tax money ever since a referendum passed in 2010. Last year, it brought in $122,600.

The idea of asking voters for another referendum came about because no substitute for that revenue has been identified, said Superintendent David Shaffer.

“We are kind of at the point where I think we have to put the same type of issue to the voters: Do they feel like this kind of a program has enough value that they’ll support it with some additional tax revenue?” he said.

College, high school support

Since the first referendum passed, Bartlett has been keeping track of what the CRC provides to the schools — and vice versa.The CRC has a working relationship with the high school and its students, he said.High school graduates who wish to start out in smaller classrooms before moving to campus can register for Ivy Tech classes at the CRC.

The CRC works to help them realize they can be successful in college by building their confidence, providing a support system they may not receive at a larger university, according to Bartlett.

The CRC and Brown County High School also are working together to reach students before they graduate — and before they drop out — to let them know of their options.

When the high school learns a student is thinking of leaving school, the school contacts the CRC to set up a meeting, said Brown County High School Principal Shane Killinger.

“We, in no way, want to be the bailout method for high school, because the best alternative is for students to finish at the high school and graduate with a high school degree,” Bartlett said.

“But sometimes when people exit, if you don’t have some communication or linkage between the CRC as an alternative place to come to finish their high school education, then those people are going to seemingly disappear.”

High school teachers Vince McCann and Barb Kelp instruct the school’s career classes. Students who aren’t planning to go to college can take the class.

Bartlett sets up mock job interviews and directs students to take the WorkKeys exam at the CRC, which assesses fundamental English and math skills. Every question is related to what employees are expected to do on the job at a company like Cook Medical.

Bartlett also is the college admissions representative for the Brown County College and Career Success Coalition. The coalition’s goals include not only getting more students to enroll in education beyond high school, but also to increase success rates in the first four years of college. Other members include Killinger and Assistant Principal Angie Evans.

In addition, the CRC and schools are connected through shared teaching programs. The CRC contracts with online Plato Courseware for adult education. That program also offers SAT prep and credit recovery, and the CRC and schools now share the cost of it.

The CRC approaching the high school to share those resources began a “cultural shift,” Bartlett said.

“The high school started to look at the CRC differently,” he said. “We had something they could benefit from, so why wouldn’t you share that?”

Killinger said he relationship between the two entities is beneficial for students.

“The CRC has the same philosophy as us. We’re always looking for ways to improve to help the kids,” he said. “That’s our jobs.”

Working with school corporation

The school district also works with the CRC on the corporation level.Al Kosinski, director of student services, sends special education teachers to the CRC to take American Sign Language classes.Corporation bus drivers take their yearly certification renewal exam on the CRC’s computers.

Homebound students, or students with issues that keep them out of the classroom, attend classes at the CRC under the supervision of a school employee. They ride the bus there and are enrolled as students at Brown County Schools.

The school corporation also owns the building that houses the CRC. The corporation pays the electric and water bills; the CRC pays for broadband Internet.

The corporation is not under any contract to pay those bills, but Bartlett finds it necessary to keep track of what the CRC gives in return for the school’s in-kind donation of paying the electric and water bills.

The school corporation is also the CRC’s fiscal agent. The CRC has a separate account and raises its own money, but CRC checks come from the school corporation.

District administration and school board govern the CRC. The CRC’s steering committee can only make recommendations about spending and programming to the school board; it cannot act on its own.

Early career education

Bartlett is working with Brown County Intermediate School Principal Trent Austin to connect with fifth- and sixth-graders about career options.“That’s the age I think you got to get something going on, because that’s when kids are really starting to form their identities,” said Bartlett, a former fifth- and sixth-grade teacher.The CRC has a presence in the junior high school by helping to organize the Reality Store. It shows students how every choice — from the car they drive to the grades they get in school — can affect their pocketbooks.

The CRC and junior high school also share facilities. The CRC uses the junior high to host Ivy Tech anatomy and physiology classes in the science labs, and the junior high uses the CRC’s 18 computer lab for science, art and health classes when their computer lab is busy.

Speakers Bureau is a new project the CRC is working on with the junior high. It will have people from different careers come in and talk with eighth-graders about what it took for them to get into that job.

“We’re trying to connect the working community back into the schools, trying to contribute to the conversation of career development and to move that along in a way that’s just a bit more proactive than waiting on people to walk in the door,” Bartlett said.

Public input needed

Since April 2, the Brown County School Board of Trustees has listed “2016 referendum” as a discussion item in hopes of receiving input from the public.It will remain a discussion item until a decision about whether to put the referendum on the May 2016 ballot is made.If the board decides to ask for a property tax increase to support the CRC, an additional percentage may be asked to help support programming already in place in the schools.

This is due to the lack of revenue coming from the state, Shaffer said.

“The General Assembly hasn’t continued to keep funding up with what it has been in the past,” he said.

The school corporation receives funding from the state based on the number of students enrolled. Brown County Schools’ enrollment has been declining, and Shaffer believes that will continue to affect the amount of state support that goes into the corporation’s general fund.

School board meetings are at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Thursdays of each month.

CRC's financial picture

In November 2010, voters approved a referendum of 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation to be added to the property tax rate. That has produced about $125,000 per year for the CRC.

If voters were to say no to another referendum for the CRC, the CRC would not cease to exist.

The adult education program would still be offered, but other classes would no longer be available. Hours would have to be cut, said Director David Bartlett.

During the 2000-2001 school year, the Lilly Endowment awarded Brown County Schools a $5 million CAPE II grant to create the CRC. The school corporation was named the fiscal agent, responsible for overseeing operations and expenditures.

A second $800,000 CAPE III grant from the Lilly Endowment was awarded in 2004.

The school board approved offering voters a referendum in 2010 as the CAPE funds were running low.

Referendum money makes up 41 percent of the budget, Bartlett said in May.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.