Porter Council delays vote on Valpo School budget
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent October 1, 2012 11:24PM
Updated: November 3, 2012 6:24AM
VALPARAISO — The Porter County Council put off a vote on the Valparaiso School Corporation’s budget on Monday, pending more information and input from a financial consultant hired to help the council through the process.
A date for another meeting to approve the school budget has not been set, but the council must approve it by Nov. 1 and send it on to the state Department of Local Government Finance for final approval.
“The school system is in a mess. It’s in a budget crisis,” Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-large, said after the meeting, adding he has historical questions about a critical State Board of Accounts audit of the school corporation and the cuts the district has made, as well as forward-looking questions about attrition and other matters.
The school corporation’s financial situation was worse than Whitten expected, and he was concerned about Interim Superintendent Mike Berta’s assertion that the general fund’s revenue and expenses were not stable.
“I’m going to get as much together as I can so I can vote comfortably on this budget,” Whitten said.
The school corporation’s advertised budget for the coming year is $61.1 million, considerably larger than the county’s budget for this year, which is $39.2 million.
The school corporation’s general fund, the largest part of its budget, is being advertised at $38.1 million for 2013. That fund comes from the state, said Sharon Qualkenbush, the school corporation’s chief financial officer, while the rest of the corporation’s budget, including debt service, transportation and capital projects, among others, are funded by taxes.
Qualkenbush and Berta outlined some of the challenges facing the Valparaiso schools, including property tax caps hitting the funds that rely on taxes; a drop in state funding per pupil, which impacts the general fund; and a drop in the corporation’s assessed valuation, which can result in higher taxes and more taxpayers butting up against the tax caps.
Much of the general fund, between 80 and 85 percent, is dedicated to personnel costs, Berta said, and it’s in need of protection because it has taken heavy hits in the past few years. He’s not convinced the fund is stable.
“I’m just not,” he said, adding the corporation is taking steps to stabilize the fund, including leaving an administrative position open, and not filling positions as people leave.