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NACS can’t find money for buses

Property tax caps pinch growing district

Budgeting for next year’s building projects won’t be nearly as tricky as figuring out how to get Northwest Allen County Schools’ growing number of students to class by school bus, school officials said.

On Monday, NACS Business Manager Bill Mallers told board members that although nine buses need replacing, funding challenges resulting from property tax caps will make that, and affording the cost of driver salaries and fuel, impossible. To replace nine buses, including six 78-passenger buses, two 54-passenger buses and one 15-passenger activity bus, Mallers said the district would pay $960,400.

The district, he said, will continue to discuss property tax caps with lawmakers during this year’s legislative session.

“When you have growing schools with these property tax cap issues, (lawmakers) might want to take a look at some of the rules,” Mallers said. “For school districts seeing (enrollment) that is steady or declining, it’s not such a major issue.”

During the previous school year, the district’s enrollment grew by 158 students and during the 2011-12 school year, there were 160 additional students when NACS had an enrollment of about 6,500. Superintendent Chris Himsel said the official headcount will not be available for several weeks, but the preliminary numbers show enrollment has increased again this year.

What that means for the district’s 80 buses and 61 drivers is longer routes with more students aboard. Last year, NACS bus drivers combined to drive more than 789,500 miles during the school year. Himsel said some Hoosier school districts, including Westfield School District north of Indianapolis, have been forced to adopt a resolution to inform parents that the district will no longer provide transportation for students.

Districts are required to give at least three or four years notice before suspending transportation, he added.

“We’re not there yet, it’s just the path we’re headed down,” Himsel said.

Mallers said the district may be forced to dip into the general fund or rainy day fund to make payments on NACS’ transportation fund in 2013-14. The transportation fund has an advertised budget of $3.1 million, but that amount could be reduced to a little more than $269,000 after property tax caps are calculated. “We will also have to take a look at this in the future because we are not going to go into the general fund and have to cut our teaching positions,” Himsel said.

Board member John Hilger suggested contacting private industries to see whether the district could save money by not relying on the state’s checkbook to purchase buses.

“It’s not something I’ve heard about (districts) having a ton of savings in, either,” Mallers said. “They still have to pay the drivers, they still have to buy the fuel … there’s going to be administrative costs.”

Building projects

The board also discussed building projects and improvements totaling more than $5.96 million.

Those projects, which are paid for out of the district’s capital projects fund, would include repairs such as roof replacements at Arcola and Huntertown elementary schools and Carroll High School, as well as improvements to technology, air conditioning systems and window replacements at other schools.

Some of the proposed projects are carry-over projects from the previous year, Mallers explained. Those projects include $12,000 in carpet repairs at Huntertown Elementary School, cafeteria tables at Oak View Elementary School, a $21,000 mower at Carroll Middle School and more than $100,000 in repairs at Carroll High School.

Mallers said the board will need to review the proposed projects after the 2013-14 budget is approved by the state to determine which repairs will be postponed this school year.

The board plans to adopt the 2013-14 budget at the Oct. 14 board meeting.