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EACS board told of declining enrollment

NEW HAVEN – After hearing that East Allen County Schools' enrollment declined by 100 students in the past year, school board member Arden Hoffman made his case against borrowing $2 million for building renovations.

The board will vote next month whether to move forward on plans to secure a general-obligation bond to help pay for maintenance and repairs to 10 of the district's buildings.

Enrollment went from 9,113 students last fall to 9,013 this year, according to the official average daily membership numbers. Heritage Elementary lost the most students at 56, and Cedarville Elementary's enrollment dropped by 53 students.

Enrollment has dropped for three consecutive years. Funding from the state is based on enrollment.

From the 2010-11 school year to the 2011-12 school year, the district lost 588 students, and from the 2011-12 school year to the 2012-13 school year, the district lost 212 students, data showed.

Hoffman was the lone "nay" vote on multiple agenda items, most having to do with the general bond issue, the capital projects plan and the passing of the $85 million 2014 budget.

Since enrollment is declining and the district is still unsure of the future usage of some of the buildings, Hoffman said the projects were not urgent and some might even be unnecessary.

Projects include maintenance and repairs to New Haven High School, New Haven Middle School, New Haven Intermediate School, New Haven Primary School, Cedarville and Southwick elementary schools, Leo Junior-Senior High School, Park Hill Learning Center and the district's service center.

The majority of board members appointed Rod Wilson of City Securities Corporation as the financial advisor for the general obligation bond, even though a final bond issue vote will not happen until Nov. 5.

The three-year bond would most likely have an interest rate of between 1.5 and 2 percent, Wilson said.

Payments would include $600,000 in 2014, $650,000 in 2015 and $750,000 in 2016, he said.

The tax impact of the bond for taxpayers with $150,000 homes would be an increase of about $19.77 annually added to their property tax bills, Wilson said.

An 80-acre farm would see an increase of about $43 annually, he said, while business owners would see their property tax bills go up by $30.30 for each $100,000 of assessed valuation annually, Wilson said.

The district's current outstanding bonds are about $5.75 million and the new debt would bring the total to about $7.7 million, Business Manager Kirby Stahly said.

About 24 1/2 cents of every tax dollar would go toward paying the district's debt, he said.

"This plan is expensive," Hoffman said. "At what point do we stop entering into more debt? he said. "I think we need to work on turning around enrollment (numbers) before acquiring more debt."

Board member Robert Nelson Jr. said he had received an unusually large amount of emails on the issue.

Nelson told Hoffman that he agreed that the entire board needed to really investigate before the next meeting.

"We need to get out and talk to people and see what they think," he said.

vsade@jg.net

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