The Herald Bulletin

March 28, 2012

Madison County school districts weather ups and downs

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

— It was another year of ups and downs for Madison County schools as some districts reaped the benefits of legislation like school choice while others suffered from it.

Anderson Community Schools actually had some good to go along with the bad.

The good news is that Superintendent Felix Chow said the district is out of bankruptcy.

When he became superintendent in 2009, the district was facing a major deficit, but by the end of 2010, however, he said the district actually had a $1.5 million surplus.

He expects to double that amount in 2011.

While the forecast is looking better, it doesn’t mean the district is “out of the woods” yet, he said.

“You don’t spend every dime made,” he said. “You save some for a rainy day.”

To get to this point, the district had to face some major challenges and make some major changes.

Chow said ACS has had to utilize staff and buildings. The Wigwam was closed over the summer and teachers saw a three percent decrease in salary for 2011-12.

The state continues to give less and the district lost nearly 1,200 students for the 2011-12 school year and about 1,000 the year before.

Chow said districts are “facing an issue of competition” with the state’s grading system, school choice and vouchers.

ACS receives roughly $6,500 per student, Chow said. So that’s a $6.5 million loss with 1,000 plus kids gone.

When it came time to talk about enrollment back in November, South Madison Community School Corp. Superintendent Joe Buck said his district saw an increase in students from 4,206 in 2010-11 to 4,473 for 2011-12.

Of those gained, 102 transferred from another district thanks to school choice.

The number of students in a district not only reflects how successful that district is, but also becomes a deciding factor in revenue.

The higher the Average Daily Membership (ADM) count, the more revenue received, Buck said.

At South Madison, the ADM increased to 4,288.5 for 2011-12 compared to 4,138.5 in 2010-11. Kindergartners only count as half a student in that count.

Due to the increase in students and revenue, Buck said South Madison added five teachers along with teacher and special education assistants for 2011-12.

In the Alexandria Community School Corp. the district’s negotiated contract presented a 2 percent pay increase for teachers in 2010-11 and a 1.5 increase for 2011-12.

In February, Human Resources Director Amanda Miller said they’d been able to increase teacher salaries because the district has been “very fiscally responsible” and administrators have been careful with balancing funding.

Chow said ACS is still far from being financially healthy. That and the future is uncertain.

The intermediate schools will close in 2012-13 and Edgewood Elementary will re-open, saving some money.

When Chow started, the district’s occupancy rate was at less than 50 percent with all of the different buildings, he said.

In 2012-13 he added it will be at 80 percent... if there is no further loss of students.

While significantly less than what was being handed out, the preliminary layoffs for the summer of 2012 are at 35. Chow said many will likely be recalled.

And Chow has said in the past that the goal of ACS’ new restructuring plan is to stabilize the student population so that the quality of education may became the focus.

In the end, it’s survival of the fittest, he said.

Contact Dani Palmer: 640-4847, dani.palmer@heraldbulletin.com