The Herald Bulletin

July 2, 2009

ACS head: State budget deceptive

By Dave Stafford, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer

ANDERSON — On Lennon Brown’s first day in charge of Anderson Community Schools on Wednesday, he tried to make sense of a new state budget that meets expectations of a worst-case scenario.

“We could be looking at an $11 million shortfall” in 2011, Brown said. “It means the same thing we’ve been doing in trying to bridge this gap. It’s back to facilities and people.

Even though a greater deficit was expected, “It’s a shock because we were hoping for better,” he said.

Brown, who took over as interim superintendent when Mikella Lowe retired as superintendent, said Thursday that the school system will face further difficult choices soon.

ACS this past school year faced a $5 million budget deficit, and responded by laying off three dozen teachers and closing three schools: Robinson and Southview elementaries and South Side Middle School. Those moves to date have saved the system $3.8 million, Business Manager Kevin Brown said.

But the new state budget adopted on Tuesday continues a formula in which funding follows students. As enrollment and revenue decline at ACS, the budget gap in coming years will widen. ACS officials expect the $5 million shortfall to rise to $10 million in the coming school year.

While the budget approved this week increases overall education funding, it does not assure that all school districts will see an increase in revenue. Indiana Democratic House Speaker Pat Bauer has called for a study into education funding, noting that many school districts in Anderson’s position face costs such as facilities, utilities and insurance that will not decline as enrollment does.

“This is going to require us to do substantial cost-cutting,” Kevin Brown said.

Lennon Brown noted that three of four Anderson-area legislators — Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane and Reps. Terri Austin and Scott Reske — voted against the budget. Republican Rep. Jack Lutz of Anderson voted in favor.

“Clearly they understand the dilemma we face,” Brown said of those who voted against the budget.

Brown said there were no cost-cutting moves he was ready to announce. He said administrators would be looking back at recommendations from the ACS 2010 Challenge Advisory Panel that outlined the cuts that the School Board adopted earlier this year.

“This is not a tomorrow issue,” Brown said. “This is a right-now issue, to be honest.”

Contact Dave Stafford: 648-4250, dave.stafford@heraldbulletin.com