This is in response to numerous recent columns by the Brown County Schools superintendent concerning the urgent need for a tax increase referendum this coming May.
His explanations are articulate, detailed, and abound with, in his opinion, fully justified reasons for a tax increase to fund the desperate needs of the system. However, I feel that some facts should be made known before approving a referendum for raising taxes on county residents.
What I’m about to offer will not set well with the academic community in general, including educators and the school board. These individuals, however, function in an ideologically and philosophically different world than the rest of average society.
They can’t imagine anyone disagreeing, or opposing their agendas, as everyone around them is of the same opinion. For those who oppose any part of these agendas, they use the guilt-induced reasoning that they can’t believe that anyone would deny the “children” a good education. Besides, most all are employed and have incomes and will have for years.
For us, this isn’t about the “children.” It’s about financial survival.
We are retired, as are more than 20 percent of residents in this county. We have not had children in school for decades. We live on a fixed Social Security income supplemented by a modest IRA and equity account. We have to watch our spending closely — something we thought we didn’t need to concern ourselves with, but economic times have changed.
The federal government has not given a cost-of-living increase to Social Security retirees this year and raised the deduction for Medicare premiums. This has happened three times since the current administration has been in office.
Since the so-called “affordable healthcare” act was passed in the middle of the night, healthcare costs for seniors have increased. Like our policy, some were cancelled.
We are not alone in this with these issues. We are faced with constant property tax increase “creep.” And now, based on a desired 8-cent-per-$100 increase, it will result close to $200 per year on our tax bill.
That may not be much for those that still have working income, but it’s a considerable burden on people like us.
Here are some figures I’ve discovered using state and federal sources:
- Brown County schools’ enrollments have been primarily on the decline, with minor variations since 2006. Enrollment in that year was 2,272. In 2015, it was 2,089.
- The national average of cost per student was $10,600 to $11,000 depending on whose data you accept for 2013 to 2014.
- The state of Indiana average cost per pupil in 2013 was $9,719. Round it to $10,000 as an estimate for 2015.
- The 2015 cost per student in the Brown County Schools system was $14,319 on a budget of about $30 million.
By comparison, here are some other similar-in-size Indiana school systems:
- Lawrenceburg with 1,988 students. Cost per student is $10,766.
- Decatur County with 2,133 students at a cost of $9,375 per student.
- Lakeland County Schools with 2,112 students at a cost of $10,318.
- South Gibson with 1,966 at a cost of $10,381.
Looking at student performance rates for these systems, they are very similar with the BCS figures. The student-to-teacher ratios are similar also. They have more than one physical building location in their districts. They all have bus service.
It would seem that those systems are getting positive educational results at less expense. It would seem that BCS seems to be a bit pricey at $14,319 per student. These figures are from the state education website, Niche.com, Concordia University Education online and Indiana Department of Local Government Finance 2015 data.
The superintendent claims it’s the lack of state educational funding that warrants this request for a tax increase. He admits the student enrollment drops but wants the taxpayer to make up for that loss of revenue.
The state legislature will be working on this problem, and the result could well be a statewide tax increase for all. So, if this local requested tax increase is approved, we could be double-taxed to fix the same issue.
Those schools listed above with significantly less cost per student seem to be dealing with the same issues for less cost.
BCS should be able to live on a $30 million budget. A possible reason they’re in such a financial bind is all of the new construction of facilities in the past several years. Spending money on capital projects like multiple gymnasiums, school bus maintenance facilities, state-of-the-art science labs, etc., needs to be reined in.
There’s not a private business on the planet that could afford to survive with 95 percent of their operation costs going for salaries and benefits. Yet, the system recently increased salaries and benefits.
Perhaps the BCS needs to downsize, as many systems have had to do to survive. Other school systems seem to be able to function with less costs than the over $14,000 per student the BCS budget entails. If approved, a tax increase could result in a cost-per-student figure to around $15,000.
If one rents housing locally, they should also be concerned with any tax hike. Landlords will certainly feel the tax bite and will, in all likelihood, raise the rent to cover any increase. The now-under-construction senior housing complex comes to mind, as well as those already occupied.
This desired tax increase will affect everyone in the county, especially senior citizens on fixed incomes as well as families who rent housing, and families who don’t qualify for housing subsidies.
We will be voting “no” on any tax increase referendum this May. For us, it’s a matter of financial survival. A $30 million budget and $14,000 per student cost does not warrant an increase.
J.D. Ray is a Brown County resident. He can be reached through the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who wishes to write a letter to the editor or guest column for or against the referendum may email email@example.com.