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Westview ‘losers’ in state budget

Westview School Corporation Superintendent Randy Zimmerly told the school board Thursday that the district will be a “loser regardless of which budget passes,” as he and Finance Director Brian Christner discussed the district’s budget with the board. “Rural schools in Indiana are not being treated well in this budget,” Zimmerly added.

Christner told the board that the district has used $372,000 out of its rainy day fund in the first quarter. “We’re on track for a $1.6 million deficit in 2017,” he added.

The Indiana House and Senate are currently working on a compromise state budget and, depending on which one is passed, the district could lose over $400,000 with the House version or nearly $70,000 with the Senate version. “One is worse, but both aren’t good,” Zimmerly stated.

Either way, the potential cuts would take effect on July 1, leaving the district to cut budgets mid-year.

Christner noted that the district is working to keep costs down anywhere possible. He highlighted the district’s technology budget, where they have spent $60,000 less per year over the last four years than they had previously. They have managed this through contract tech support and by eliminating the technology director position in the administration office.

Zimmerly recalled the budget crunch several years ago, during which Westview teachers and staff “made a tremendous effort and took a pay cut, one of few in the state that did so. We made every effort to operate with the money the state gave us,” The problem, he added, is that the state “has not turned this around. And there has been no increase for inflation.” He told the board that with an improved economy, the state would put more money toward education but it looks “as if that won’t come to fruition.”

This has led Westview, and other districts, using their rainy day fund to keep programs going.

“If we don’t see some kind of relief, things we’ll have to think about are increases in class size,” Zimmerly said later. “If we allow class sizes in the high 20s or low 30s, we could reduce 11 positions in Kindergarten through sixth grade.” That size of classroom, though, “is not, in my opinion, a high-quality education,” he added.

At the high school, the district would need to look at participation numbers, as well as whether or not programs are essential to the core diploma curriculum and testing. Zimmerly admitted that could mean programs like art could see cuts, but, “giving up something that makes a well-rounded person is not what we want to do.”

He noted that other schools have, in the past, eliminated elementary extracurricular programs.

The district did pass a program plan that will allow the district to begin making its commitment to staff now for next year. Zimmerly said that the district is currently not planning a reduction in force (RIF).

In other business:

The board approved the purchase of a new maintenance/plow truck to replace the 2001 model currently being used.

The district has sent out a request for qualifications for a possible solar panel project. A bill currently in the general assembly would allow net metering for solar projects that are on the books by the end of the year in order to be grandfathered in. If the project goes forward, the net savings for energy would be seen mainly in the general fund. The district will take a look at the numbers, Zimmerly said, and decide if they will get a good return on the investment.