Superintendent’s Corner: District exploring possibilities to bring in more money

By LAURA HAMMACK, guest columnist

The Brown County Schools Board of Trustees and I have been working on strategies to reduce the strain that has been placed on our general fund that is a result of our declining student enrollment.

As compared with September 2015, our district enrollment is down nearly 100 students.

Briefly, general fund dollars are calculated by taking the number of students enrolled in the district and multiplying that number by a “complexity index” (number of students receiving SNAP or TANF benefits and/or the number of students in foster care placement). The resulting number indicates the tuition support dollars that a district will receive per student.

When our sum total of students is down, the number of dollars receipted in the general fund is also negatively impacted.

The tuition support dollars that are projected on a per-student collection rate equate to $5,088. When we take that number and multiply it by the 100 students that we are down in enrollment, the district experiences a little more than a half a million dollars of negative impact to the general fund.

Thankfully, this community supported a referendum in May 2016 where the school district added 8 cents per $100 of assessed value to the property tax rate. One cent of that collection is immediately allocated to the Brown County Career Resource Center and the remaining 7 cents assist the general fund for Brown County Schools. The referendum dollars will be receipted beginning in June 2017.

Because our board of trustees and I believe that it is important to retain our high-quality team of teachers and staff, the referendum dollars have been allocated to confer raises to the certified teachers and non-certified support staff that are retroactive to the beginning of this school year.

These raises have allowed our district to become more competitive with our surrounding districts and have also provided many of our team members with the ability to experience a raise for which they can be proud. We are committed to never losing another highly valued team member to an area district because we can’t compete with their rate of pay.

When you do the math, you may ask yourself, how is this district able to offer raises to their team members when their general fund is facing a half-a-million-dollar shortfall?

It’s a good question!

I am pleased to share that we are doing this through making substantial structural changes that will provide direct relief to the general fund. I’d like to share several of these strategies.

First, the board of trustees and I have decided that we will not fill the position of assistant superintendent that is open due to the recent passing of Dr. Dennis Goldberg. By making this decision, the board will save more than $120,000 within the general fund.

The board and I will use assistance from consultative services as I become more familiar with an annual budget cycle. Since I assumed the position of superintendent July 1, we have already experienced teacher contract negotiations, the production and posting of the 2017 budget, and developed and approved non-certified staff raises. We have completed all of these major initiatives with the current staffing team that is in place and feel that we can do the same for the second semester of this school year.

The board of trustees and I will revisit this decision in July 2017 to see if any modifications need to be made to our current structure.

Second, we are currently studying ways in which our district can receive more dollars from the state in the area of the Career and Technical Education Grant. Currently, Brown County Schools receives $169,600 from students who are taking courses that qualify for CTE reimbursement. We believe that by submitting students who aren’t currently being submitted for courses that qualify, and also by renaming classes so that they fall under CTE state-approved titles, we can increase our funding from the state by at least $100,000. This is a creative way to receive more dollars by being intentional with the naming of course titles while simultaneously not negatively impacting course offerings or the quality of instruction that is being delivered.

Third, as positions across the district have become available, we are in the process of evaluating each so we can eliminate any positions that are no longer necessary based on the number of students enrolled in the building. This is a process that takes time to make substantive impact on the general fund bottom line; however, it is critical to getting our organizational structure in line.

Fourth, we are looking at strategies to relieve the general fund by allowing our other funds to pick up allowable expenses from it. Our other funds are very healthy, as this district has been very fortunate to have not been negatively impacted by the property tax caps that are in place. Additionally, Mr. Shaffer, Dr. Goldberg and the board managed these funds with significant expertise, and we are the beneficiaries of their fiscal responsibility in these areas. I will provide more updates as these cost-shifting decisions are made.

I can’t thank the community of Brown County enough for their incredible support of the referendum in May 2016. Your support has provided the ability for our teachers and non-certified staff members to receive substantial raises for the first time in a long time.

Without your support, this district would be in a position of placing reductions in force for our certified teachers, eliminating more administrative positions, as well as eliminating valuable support staff team members.

Because of our voters who pledged their support for this district, we are in a position that provides the best educational benefit for our boys and girls. Thank you.

Laura Hammack is the superintendent of Brown County Schools. She can be reached at lhammack@brownco.k12.in.us.