The Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the Vigo County School Corp.’s operating referendum, in conjunction with the district’s commitment to make at least $4 million in budget cuts.

Kristin Craig, Chamber president, read a statement in support of the referendum during Monday’s School Board meeting.

“We ... support the VCSC’s decision to pursue a $7 million operating referendum this fall for safety, security and transportation, in conjunction with a commitment to make at least $4 million in additional internal cost savings,” she read. 

But, she added, the operating referendum can’t be considered in a vacuum. “In just two short years, the VCSC plans to pursue a much larger facilities referendum, to replace aging and outdated facilities. We must look at not just this single issue, but also the long-term future of the VCSC and the impact on taxpayers in Vigo County.”

The Chamber strongly encourages the school board to consider additional internal cost-savings as it looks toward the facilities referendum in the near future, Craig read.

“Along with our support comes a commitment to stay engaged with the VCSC as they vigorously  examine efficiencies within the corporation,” the statement said.

The statement also praised superintendent Rob Haworth and the school board “for their transparency and diligence in providing information regarding the corporation’s current financial situation.”

In other matters, Haworth announced the formation of an education/business roundtable that will begin meeting in early 2020. The district has already formed roundtables involving faith-based organizations and nonprofits.

The groups meet quarterly “and help with information sharing and developing projects collaboratively with the community,” according to Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications.

The roundtable will include representatives of education, business, labor groups and workforce development, Haworth said. 

The business community will be able to present its needs, and VCSC students hopefully can benefit through greater access to apprenticeships, internships and employment after graduation, Haworth said.

The board also conducted a hearing on the proposed 2020 budget, estimated at $162.6 million. One person, Kevin Southwood, addressed the board.

The budget estimate includes a $106 million education fund; $44.3 million operations fund; $10.7 million debt service fund; and $1.6 million rainy day fund. As occurs every year, budgets are advertised high to protect levies and tax rates.

This year’s tax rate is 75 cents per $100 assessed value, and the goal “is to maintain a flat tax rate as close to 75 cents per $100 assessed value as possible,” Bruce Perry, chief financial officer, has stated.

Budget adoption will take place Oct. 21. After that, the Department of Local Government Finance will review, adjust and give its approval to the budget, based on what state law allows. The budget should be finalized by the end of the year.

The proposed budget does not reflect anticipated budget cuts that will be necessary because of the district’s declining cash balance; the cuts will be announced prior to the Nov. 5 election, when an operating referendum is on the ballot. 

The education budget is funded by student enrollment through the state funding formula, supported by the state sales tax.The operations fund [formerly capital projects, transportation and bus replacement] is supported through local property tax levies, with some subsidy by the education fund.

The board also will be asked to approve $1.6 million in a Rainy Day fund first created by the board in 2017 with a $6 million transfer from the general fund cash balance, Perry said during the hearing. 

The fund was used in 2017 and 2018 to subsidize textbook purchases, support McLean Education Center and purchase fuel for transportation “due to that fund’s significant revenue losses from circuit breaker tax credits,” he said.

The district seeks approval of a $1.6 million budget appropriation for the Rainy Day fund in 2020 that continues to support those areas, Perry said.

The district only needs approval of the budget so existing funds can be spent; no tax levy is needed for the Rainy Day Fund.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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