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FWCS hears of possible cuts

CFO describes quirk in House budget proposal

– While state House Republicans have advocated restoring cuts to education funding, Fort Wayne Community Schools board heard Monday night that in some areas the district’s funding will decrease under the current proposed budget.

Lawmakers have said they plan to restore cuts to education instituted about two years ago, but FWCS Chief Financial Officer Kathy Friend said the budget removes an additional funding area for grades kindergarten through third. Friend said this line item, called primetime funding, will be included in the per-student tuition dollars starting in 2014. For FWCS, primetime funding totals about $3.3 million in 2013.

If the primetime funding is added to per-student funding for 2013 and then compared with the proposed funding for the next two years under the state’s budget, funding would increase by 1 percent over two years. That’s compared with the 2 percent increase lawmakers have touted as part of their proposal.

The budget also changes how districts with higher populations of families qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty, are funded.

In the past, districts with the highest populations of low-income students get an additional rate, or second tier, of funding, Friend said. This second tier has been eliminated, and its funding will be redistributed.

Under the proposed budget, the funding FWCS receives for having a high number of low-income students will decrease, despite years of increases in the percentage of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches. FWCS is among 28 districts across the state that will experience the decrease, including Indianapolis, Gary and Elkart, Friend said.

Board vice president Steve Corona said he’s concerned about how difficult it is to understand school funding and that lawmakers may not be knowledgeable of the effects changes have on districts like FWCS.

“This (presentation) clearly says we’re getting the short end of the stick,” he said.

The proposed budget also calls for an increase to funding kindergarten students, but smaller, suburban districts may receive more funding than districts like FWCS and Indianapolis.

According to Friend’s presentation, because the state funds kindergarten students differently, it funds the district’s 2,488 kindergarten students about $1.6 million less than it costs the district to educate them. But for a district like Carmel Central School District, which has about 1,000 kindergarteners and a lower population of low-income families, the state provides an excess of funding for those kindergartners when compared with the per-student tuition funding for other elementary school kids.

A bill before lawmakers in the House would also expand the number of students who could qualify for publicly-funded vouchers and increase the cap on the voucher amount from $4,500 to $5,000 in the first year and $5,500 in the second year.

“As you can see, this has a huge financial impact for the state,” Superintendent Wendy Robinson told board members.

By comparison, the base funding level for public schools would increase from $4,524 in 2013 to $4,574 by the second year of the proposed budget, according to Friend’s presentation.

District officials, including Friend and Robinson, have been working with lawmakers to educate them on the “unintended consequences” created by the proposal, Robinson said. Friend said she’s been working with lawmakers to make them aware of how the proposed budget will affect the district.

Glenna Jehl, who has also testified before the legislature this session, said the community should be proud of the work Robinson and Friend have been doing in Indianapolis on behalf of FWCS.