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Tax for FWCS to rise slightly

Increase result of state funding changes

Property owners supporting Fort Wayne Community Schools will see a small increase in their tax bills in 2014 based on a budget review presented to the school board Monday night.

The $275 million budget plan is 0.2 percent more than the 2013 budget, Chief Financial Officer Kathy Friend said.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay a maximum of $9 more in 2014, Friend said. The actual amount could be as low as $2, she estimated.

The increase is the result of changes at the local and state level, as well as an increase for the district’s voter-approved $119 million building referendum that was approved in 2012.

“The funding changes made at the state level are making it challenging for school districts to accurately predict our financial futures,” Friend said.

Among those challenges is funding that the district receives for low-income students, which in the past has been based on the number of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches.

Beginning in July 2014, the funding will instead be determined by the number of students receiving free textbooks.

Currently about 70 percent of FWCS participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

And although most students who are signed up for the free and reduced-price lunches also participate in the free textbook program, there’s no way to know what the guidelines might be for next year because state lawmakers haven’t written them yet, Friend said.

“For instance, (lawmakers) may make it that fewer people are qualified for free textbooks than they are for free and reduced lunches,” she said.

Indiana’s textbook assistance program provides free textbooks to low-income students.

The program covers the cost of textbooks for elementary, middle and high school students whose families fall within 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

For a family of four to be eligible, the family’s income can’t exceed $38,202.

Of the $6.6 billion in state funds that go to K-12 schools in Indiana, about $1 billion is directly tied to the federal school lunch program, according to the department of education. The more students who enroll in the program, the more state money school districts receive.

Changing the way the funding is determined could have a major affect on next year’s revenue, Friend said.

“We don’t know what the rules are yet,” she said. “… If that factor goes down, it will affect our revenue.”

Even if, for example, 1 percent fewer students are eligible for free textbooks next year than students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, Friend said it could mean the district would receive about $1.3 million less from the state.

“It is an enormous impact whatever this decision is, and this is why we have to be really on top of making sure we’re part of that process,” Friend said.

Although the guidelines for the programs are set by the federal government, the state distributes the money.

The district will continue to look for areas to cut back, including replacing fewer buses, Friend said.

Of the district’s 350 buses, 45 are scheduled for replacement in 2014. This includes passenger buses with seats in increments of 15, 24, 48 and 84.

The proposed budget will allow the district to replace 10 buses at a cost of more than $1.1 million. About $3.8 million in additional funding would be needed to replace the remaining 35 buses.

“We are budgeting conservatively, while trying to diminish negative effects on students. Already, we have had to reduce some services and will be carefully examining the budget line by line over the next few months to seek out additional savings,” Friend said.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 in the Grile Administrative Center, 1200 S. Clinton St.

Board members expect to vote on the budget plan during the Oct. 28 meeting.

Robinson’s salary

Also on Monday, the board approved an amendment to Superintendent Wendy Robinson’s second contract.

Robinson’s second contract was approved Nov. 23, 2009.

According to the evaluation and compensation process adopted by the FWCS school board in July 2012, Robinson qualified for a base salary increase of $12,150 for the 2013-14 school year and a one-time incentive payment of $9,000.

The changes will increase Robinson’s base salary to $192,150. She will also receive the one-time performance bonus payment on or before Oct. 15.

The performance bonus is based on two components – evaluations by board members and district performance.

jcrothers@jg.net

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