Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 9, 2014

READER POINT OF VEW: Concord schools fighting to maintain history of excellence

Goshen News

---- — At Concord Community Schools, we’re all about kids.

As you probably already are aware, the corporation will be asking Concord voters for an additional $0.405 per $100 of assessed valuation during the May primary election. The impact for property taxpayers is an increase of about $132 per year for a home valued at $100,000. The term of the increase is no more than seven years. I have been meeting with groups large and small throughout the community for the past several months, explaining our needs.

While we are requesting more money in 2014 for the 2015-2016 school year, the funding problem actually dates back to 2008, when Indiana voters approved a constitutional amendment to place a cap on property taxes. The unintended consequence: Since that time, Concord schools has lost $10 million in property tax funding; we will lose an additional $4.2 million this year. Out of the Indiana’s 292 school districts, Concord ranks eighth in the percentage of lost local revenue statewide.

We have done our best to cut and save. At the same time, we have what we consider to be a good problem, but one that impacts the bottom line as well: Our enrollment has grown by about 600 students, or 12 percent of our school population, since the 2005-2006 school year. With a 68.2 percent projected loss in property tax funds for 2014, it is getting more and more difficult for us to find savings to bridge the gap.

School funding is complicated: The state pays tuition support per-pupil to the corporation for classroom instruction, but less than 10 percent of that funding supports obligations other than staffing. The remainder of school funding is paid for out of property taxes for transportation, bus replacement and capital projects (building improvements and maintenance, technology, utilities and emergencies).

Concord Community Schools has had to dip into our state funding to pay for property tax-supported needs. In other words, we’re using money set aside for teachers and classroom instruction to pay for building and bus maintenance and transportation costs, all while serving more students than ever before.

How is this impacting our students?

• Our class sizes have grown. We did not replace six retired teachers at the end of the 2012-2013 school year;

• We have delayed computer replacement for nine years so far. Districtwide, the system has one computer/laptop for every 2.5 students; 45 percent of those should be replaced by summer to meet the five-year recommended replacement schedule. In addition, 56 percent of teacher computers also should be replaced if the district follows a five-year replacement cycle.

• We canceled K-6 summer school intervention and enrichment programs for 2013;

• Halted the move toward providing every student with a school-owned laptop, which would have offered 21st century learning opportunities;

• Eliminated the installation of locally funded SMART boards, another 21st century learning tool;

• School-funded field trips have been eliminated;

• We have delayed new bus purchases; some of our buses are 15 years old. Of Concord’s 50 buses, 24 of them should be replaced by this summer, as they are 12 or older.

• Increased the distance between homes and bus stops; rerouted buses to include students in grades K-6 instead of K-4 to reduce mileage;

• Adjusted the length and times of the school day to accommodate transportation adjustments;

• Eliminated building budget and frozen capital projects spending, except for emergencies;

• We’ve also eliminated technology positions and placed a hiring freeze on counselors. The number of students per counselor far exceeds the recommended amount;

• There’s also been a hiring freeze for custodial staff. Custodians are now responsible for more than the generally acceptable square footage and much of the day is staffed by only one custodian.

This isn’t about field trips. Asking students to walk to school is not an option because of our geography and infrastructure. We believe our buses are safe, but some of them have outlived their normal life span. We are thankful that our community has supported the construction of first-class buildings that have not required large-scale renovations in the past several years. The time is coming, however, where repairs will be needed.

The school corporation is the heart of the Concord community. We have a reputation for high-quality education, an excellent graduation rate and high academic achievement. We want to maintain our history of excellence and continue to serve our students in the best possible way.

Our referendum recently received the unanimous endorsement of the Board of Directors of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, which recognizes a strong education for our students means a healthy business community and more robust economic development for the area. We are grateful for their support.

A group of school patrons is meeting to garner support for the upcoming referendum vote. You’ll be hearing from “Yes for Concord Kids” in the near future. This group of community members will ask for your support for Concord students on May 6, 2014.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with questions about the facts behind the referendum request. I can be reached at 875-5161 or via email at wstubbs@concord.k12.in.us. The information is also located on our website, www.concord.k12.in.us under the “District Information” tab by clicking on “Referendum Information.”

Wayne Stubbs is superintendent of Concord Community Schools.