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Local school officials fear funding cuts

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Board member: You almost want to scream

TELL CITY - "When you read legislative updates," Larry Bryant said Tuesday evening, "there are times you almost want to scream at the top of your lungs."

In a regular meeting, the Tell City-Troy Township School Board member was participating in discussion sparked by School Superintendent Ron Etienne, who'd said "circuit-breaker" legislation now under consideration would cost the corporation nearly $300,000 per year for the next two years in tax revenues.

"It just grinds me," Etienne said. "People don't want to pay property taxes - I don't want to pay property taxes," he continued, pointing out that when money is cut, service cuts must follow.

"The No. 1 loser is going to be public schools," Etienne said, "because public schools is the biggest expense they pay."

"Weren't they going to raise county income taxes to offset that?" board member Tom Holm asked.

"Not for schools," the superintendent replied. "That's for counties, not for schools." The legislature could include that in legislation, he explained, but counties and cities are seeking to replace lost tax revenue, as well.

Etienne said he'd talked to state Rep. Russ Stilwell, who said, "it's too early to get excited about it until it's done, but you see the figures going around, you get excited."

"Because it's kids we're affecting," Bryant inserted.

Etienne said things could end up worse or better. The latter possibility drew a chuckle from board member Jerry Hoagland.

"I don't know what's going to come out of the legislation," Etienne said.

"There are mandates that we have to follow, that we have to fund, because the legislators and elected officials make the rules, which help them get re-elected," Bryant said, "but they didn't put in any money to make it happen."

As a result, the board is left to find ways to fund the requirements, he added.

Etienne had just told the board about news he received from Anthem Insurance that "we hit our aggregate maximum last year," resulting in a $350,000 settlement. That outcome would cut into a half-million-dollar cash balance that had been built up over two years, he said.

Reduced revenues, coupled with high bills like that mean "we cannot continue to think we can continue the services we have today," Bryant said.

In other business, a committee that reviewed renovation needs was scheduled to provide a report at Tuesday's meeting, but Indianapolis-based consultants working with them were unable to attend due to the weather.

The board scheduled a special meeting for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the TCHS auditorium to hear that presentation.

Board member Dr. Gene Ress asked about wind ratings of canopies Elementary Principal Laura Noble wants to have installed at areas in the front and back of that school building where students board and disembark from vehicles. Etienne said a bid from Thomas Glass and More put the cost at $44,885.

Noble had raised $15,260, and he budgeted $30,000 to cover the cost, Etienne said.

Ress urged that only insurable structures be purchased, expressing concerns about "shearing winds."

Bryant was concerned that the canopies be aesthetically pleasing, and upon Holm's recommendation, the issue was tabled until the Feb. 21 meeting.