Back To School 2012

New leaders of Valpo schools dealing fiscal challenges

2012-08-14T18:00:00Z 2012-08-15T23:49:09Z New leaders of Valpo schools dealing fiscal challengesBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | It's been a tough couple of years for the Valparaiso Community School Corp.

The school's general fund took a hit as a result of state funding formula inequities and cuts at the state level.

Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz recapped the district's financial position at a recent meeting. She said the board slashed the budget in March to stem a $3.2 million budget deficit. It cut instructional aides, some extracurricular positions, instructional, custodial and media supplies, custodians and maintenance staff; reduced building-level secretaries, administrator work days, utilities; and saved money when 14.5 teachers retired.

When the state took over funding the general fund budget for schools in 2009, rather than having the general fund budget supported through property tax dollars, Valparaiso saw less funding from the state, she said.

In 2010, Kwilasz said Valparaiso, like most districts, saw a general fund reduction of 4.5 percent, amounting to $1.8 million. In addition to the drop in the general fund, other school funds paid for by local taxes also faced a projected $1.5 million decline -- an 8.25 percent loss in revenue -- as a result of the new property tax cap.

"We had to reduce our expenditures and balance the budget. The strategies that worked in the past will no longer work in the current school financial environment," Kwilasz said.

Last month, Kwilasz told Valparaiso School Board members she expects state funding to stabilize, and possibly increase slightly. As a result, the board voted to bring back instructional aides and extracurricular programs eliminated in March.

Earlier this year, the Indiana State Board of Accounts criticized the district for buying a $199,176 JumboTron, with installation costing another $123,041, for the Valparaiso High School football field, without School Board approval.

The issue caused a bit of a ruckus, but school officials maintain the JumboTron eventually will pay for itself through advertisements.

This fall will be the first time Valparaiso schools will submit its 2013 budget to the Porter County Council for approval. The law calls for appointed school boards to have their budgets approved by a city or county fiscal body.

Toward the end of the school year, the entire Valparaiso district's administrative team resigned, moving on to other opportunities. That included Superintendent Andrew Melin, and Assistant Superintendents Stacey Schmidt and Robert Haworth. Kwilasz will be CFO through Monday and then will become finance officer for the Tri-Creek School Corp.

Former Portage Superintendent Michael Berta was hired as the interim superintendent effective Aug. 7.

Valparaiso School Board President Mark Maassel said the district is in a phase of rebuilding. New Valparaiso School Board member Paul Knauff, a retired Valparaiso principal, said he believes there are many good days ahead.

"I feel like the new mandates for schools coming out of Indianapolis offer new challenges for schools," he said.

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