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Tuesday, January 15, 2019 1:00 am

FWCS upset by funding proposal

Shaming schools 'ridiculous' idea

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne Community Schools leaders had a few choice words Monday – “ridiculous,” “asinine,” “cruel” – about proposed legislation that would publicly shame districts transferring more than 15 percent of state funding to operations rather than classroom expenditures.

“It's cruel, almost, because you're painting the picture that all of us have been irresponsible,” FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson said at Monday's board meeting. “... With what we have, we are constantly trying to find other resources.”

House Bill 1003 is an attempt by state Republicans to increase teacher pay without adding new state dollars. Instead, legislators want schools to use more existing dollars on salaries.

“We do need to pay teachers more,” board President Julie Hollingsworth said. “It's obvious in Indiana that teacher pay is falling behind, so the question is how to do it. We have other academic staff in our buildings that serve students. They deserve a raise, too.”

Schools as of Jan. 1 have separate education and operations funds. The education fund is where state tuition dollars go while operations have local property tax dollars. Each school board has to pass a resolution on how much it will transfer out of education into operations for expenses such as human resources, utilities and food service.

The setup was intended to give districts more flexibility, education officials have said.

House Bill 1003, however, sets a goal of schools keeping 85 percent of state dollars in the education fund, or the classroom.

“They take away the discretion to be flexible – that's kind of asinine,” board member Glenna Jehl said. “It's kind of ridiculous that they're trying to micromanage everything from the Statehouse.”

Schools still won't be able to spend what they don't have, Hollingsworth said.

“The idea is, that if you pay less to operate your buildings – like turn the lights down or lower the thermostat or, what else could we do, serve peanut butter and jelly every day – that the idea is if we could save all that money in operations, somehow we could pay teachers more,” she said.

She noted FWCS has already cut costs in recent years by closing schools, reducing transportation and implementing an energy efficiency program, among other measures.

The bill cleared the House Education Committee and advances to the full House.

asloboda@jg.net