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EACS may see small ’14 tax hike

Board hesitates on staff cuts; custodians stress safety

– Taxpayers with $100,000 homes can expect to see a maximum of $20.50 added to their property tax bills next year based on East Allen County Schools’ proposed budget, Business Manager Kirby Stahly said Tuesday.

Although many seats were filled during Tuesday’s public hearing, only one taxpayer voiced concerns.

Last month, the board heard a presentation explaining that the district plans to budget more than $85 million in the coming year to support the budget’s seven funds.

Board members this month discussed options for cutting about $657,225 from the proposed budget to help avoid a deficit. Among the cuts proposed were reductions to teaching staff or administrative interns.

Board members agreed that large-ticket items would need to be cut but hesitated when Superintendent Ken Folks proposed unspecified employee cuts.

Board member Arden Hoffman said he wants cuts “as far away from the students as possible.”

Terri Lortie, president of the district’s custodial association and the parent of children who have graduated from EACS, spoke Tuesday, asking board members to be cautious as they discuss any employee cuts.

“I know that the subject matter is education, but safety has got to be No. 1,” Lortie said.

Lortie said she believes every staff member – from the top to the bottom – plays an important role in keeping students safe.

“The most important thing as my child walks out the door to get on a bus or walk to school is their safety, and I think every staff member at East Allen County Schools is just as important and cannot be removed for the safety of a child attending East Allen County Schools,” she said.

Stahly said although it’s still early in the budget process, the owner of a $100,000 home could see his or her tax bill rise by a maximum $20.50 when the budget is approved.

School sale

The board gave permission for Stahly to move ahead with the process to sell Harlan Elementary.

The school, which was closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year as part of the district’s redesign, has been sitting vacant. The redesign also closed Monroeville Elementary and changed Paul Harding High School to East Allen University.

In December, an Allen Superior Court judge ruled that EACS could move forward on the sale of the vacant schools instead of waiting for four years in case a future charter school wanted to use them.

EACS sued the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association to get a judge to weigh in on whether the district should be allowed to sell the shuttered Monroeville Elementary to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese.

At issue was whether amendments to the Indiana law governing the sale of abandoned school buildings meant that vacant classroom buildings had to sit on a waiting list for four years providing charter schools the opportunity to claim them for $1, or whether districts can sell the buildings under long-held state laws if no existing charter school is asking for them at the time of the sale.

EACS reached a deal last month to sell Monroeville Elementary to the diocese, which will use the school as St. Joseph Catholic Elementary.

Sunrise Chapel had expressed interest in Harlan Elementary and offered to buy it. But the church’s offer was so low, state law required the district to wait for another offer. After East Allen ran into obstacles trying to sell Monroeville Elementary, the district put the sale of Harlan Elementary on hold.

School board members outlined a resolution stating that the Harlan parcel, which includes at least 18 acres, is no longer needed for school purposes and could be sold. The Harlan parcel was placed on the Indiana Department of Education’s list of vacant and unused buildings two years ago, Stahly said.

Stahly said he has already been contacted by at least two people who expressed interest in the building and property. Board members unanimously approved moving forward on the sale.

jcrothers@jg.net

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