The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Schools battered by budget cuts in 2010

Frankton-Lapel sees growth as others lose enrollment

By Brandi Watters
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — In a year marked by budget cuts, failed referendums and declining enrollment, 2010 was hardly a banner year for area schools.

While all county school districts were forced to tighten their belts last year, no districts were harder hit than the cash-strapped Anderson and Elwood districts.

In Anderson, a $5 million deficit prompted the district to lay off more than 200 employees, including 163 teachers.

The district made a controversial decision at the start of the year when it consolidated the high schools into one and closed a number of elementary buildings.

The result of the backlash was the loss of more than 1,000 students.

Elwood, facing a $2.5 million deficit, had to cut its physical education and art programs to try to limit costs.

Elwood Superintendent Glen Nelson said the district lost 160 students since 2009 and couldn’t justify programs the district could no longer afford.

In November, both districts appealed to the voters, hoping a tax referendum would give them the boost in income they’d need to stay afloat.

It didn’t.

Both referendums failed.

Meanwhile, the Frankton-Lapel school district reaped the rewards of the exodus of students from Anderson and Elwood schools.

In 2010, the district had the highest number of transfer students in the entire state.

Not all of Frankton-Lapel’s 528 transfer students came from Anderson or Elwood, Frankton Superintendent Bobby Fields said, but transfers now make up 23 percent of Frankton-Lapel’s student body.

Not all news coming out of the struggling districts was bad.

ACS Superintendent Felix Chow is proud of the district’s handling of the budget shortfalls.

The budget dropped by $10 million from 2009 to 2010, he said. Expenses were cut by more than $11 million in one year, from $94.6 million to $83.2 million.

“When revenue drops so drastically, many organizations would have gone into bankruptcy.  This is quite an achievement in handling a financial crisis,” Chow said.

Barely into March, and 2011 is already looking like another tough year for education.

After winning the majority of both the House and Senate in November, Republican lawmakers began pushing bills that aimed to change education.

Favored by Gov. Mitch Daniels are pieces of legislation that would expand the presence of charter schools in Indiana while promoting school vouchers.

Vouchers would allow certain low-income families to send their students to private schools.

It’s something private schools applaud, but public school officials say vouchers, coupled with the charter school expansion, would spell disaster for public education.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said the governor and lawmakers are simply trying to expand school choice for Hoosier families.

“This is not about an assault on public education,” Bennett said.

The latest hit to the budgets of public schools came just last month when a proposed state budget reflected sharp cuts to education.

Nearly every school district in Madison County will see further budget cuts, under the plan, with Anderson and Elwood seeing an eight percent decline in revenues over the next two years.

The charter school, Anderson Preparatory Academy, will see a 40 percent increase in its budget under the plan.

Chow has recommended that ACS cut 82 more positions and close the Wigwam Complex in hopes of compensating for the loss.

Contact Brandi Watters: 640-4847, brandi.watters@heraldbulletin.com