Pharos-Tribune

State News

January 22, 2014

Legislators scrambling for school bus solution

Some school districts to lose 20 percent of transport funding or more.

INDIANAPOLIS — School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.

More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.

The law, slated to go into effect later this year, comes as many cash-strapped districts are still struggling to adjust to property tax caps passed by lawmakers in 2008.

The new law would severely impact the schools in counties that saw dramatic drops in the value of their commercial and industrial bases last year – a drop that has already cut deeply into the taxes they collect to keep buses running and repair leaky roofs.

Goshen Community Schools, for example, stand to lose 47 percent of their revenue for transportation and capital projects, or a $3.5 million loss. School officials, who’ve already seen a 20 percent drop in property tax revenues due to the tax caps, have cut back bus routes and informed more children they’ll have to walk or find another way to get to school.

School districts across Indiana were affected when tax caps limited revenues to pay for a range of services and projects. Under current law, school corporations can spread those losses over several funds, including debt service, school pension debt, capital projects, transportation and bus replacement.

But the new “protected levy” law, passed in 2012 and delayed until this July of this year, removed that flexibility. It requires districts to apply their property tax revenues to debt payments before other expenses.

The Legislative Services Agency, the non-partisan research arm of the General Assembly, found the new law impacts school districts differently. About one-third of school districts won’t see immediate reductions in revenue available for transportation and capital projects when the new law goes into effect this summer. But the LSA report also noted that an increasing number of school districts may face this funding dilemma in years to come as the tax caps continue to erode school revenue.

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