Valpo Chamber of Commerce: Fix school board budget process
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent October 2, 2012 2:02PM
Jon Schmaltz | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2012 9:39PM
VALPARAISO — The board of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce is urging a shift in the way the Valparaiso School Board is selected or, at the very least, a change in state law that would allow the School Board to once again approve its own budget.
The announcement came Tuesday, from chamber board chairman Jon Schmaltz, as the Porter County Council grapples with the school budget. The council heard a presentation on the $61.1 million proposed budget Monday, and must approve it by Nov. 1.
“The school budget is one of the largest public expenditures of tax dollars in Valparaiso and Center Township. Our school corporation will need to evaluate issues related to capital investments, and, similarly, will be searching for a permanent superintendent. So now is the time to review the board selection process and consider alternatives such as a hybrid model, which might include both elected and appointed members,” Schmaltz said. “In any event, we must consider a change in the selection process.”
A state law that went into effect July 1 dictates outside approval of the school budget because the School Board is appointed; the Valparaiso City Council appoints four of the members, and the Center Township Board appoints one member.
The school budget bounced from the County Council to the Valparaiso City Council and then back to the County Council in recent weeks as the State Board of Accounts and the Department of Local Government Finance, which has final approval of the budget, wrangled over which body was best suited for the budget review.
The County Council ultimately won out because the DLGF ruled that voters and taxpayers in Center Township outside the city limits would not have representation if the City Council approved the budget.
That’s one of the reasons the chamber board wants to see a change in the School Board selection process, since Schmaltz said a greater percentage of the school corporation’s students now reside in the township.
“Our population has shifted where a great number of students come from unincorporated Center Township, yet those residents are represented by only one School Board member,” he said.
For the City Council and the Township Board to appoint the School Board, and then for the board to have no control over its budget, can lead to confusion over who the School Board is accountable to, and threatens the strength of the public’s trust in the school corporation and its processes, Schmaltz said.
That’s why the chamber board also would like to see the state law changed so the School Board approves its own budget.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said change from the Legislature isn’t likely any time soon. The chair of the education committee isn’t interested in hearing a bill to convert the Valparaiso board to an elected one, he said, though he might able to get a hearing for a hybrid board.
As far as who approves the budget, Soliday said that could only be done by elected officials because it involves setting a tax rate, though he might be able to get the measure tweaked.
The County Council passed a resolution in June supporting an elected School Board, but Schmaltz said that was not the impetus for the chamber board’s position, which board members passed on Sept. 18.
“It’s an issue that many of our 700 members view as a business issue,” he said, adding it’s a quality-of-life matter for companies that want to attract and retain employees, and offer a quality school system. “Valparaiso has always had that. We just want to make sure it continues.”