Decatur Township faces school bus funding dilemma


An Indianapolis school district is the latest to join the growing battle over school bus money. Taxpayers and students appear to be caught in the middle. Without a property tax increase, Decatur Township insists it will have to close at least one school.

Administrators say there isn't enough money to run both the schools and the buses. This year, money intended to be spent in classrooms educating children is instead is keeping Decatur Township School buses running. $800,000 is leaving classrooms this year, and an estimated $2.5 million will be needed next year.

WTHR asked Superintendent Matthew Presiecke if that bothered him.

"Absolutely," he answered without hesitation.

Presiecke and the school board are asking residents for a tax increase.

"A small investment relative to a major cut," he said.

Like many other school districts, Decatur Township is taking a financial beating. Administrators say property tax caps and falling home values cut school spending by $12 million dollars in three years.

State law says districts can't eliminate bus service without warning residents three years ahead of time. Decatur Township schools insist a tax increase, estimated at less than $7 month on an average home, is the only alternative to drastic cutbacks.

According to their math, if taxpayers decided not to spend $80 more a year, the district has to cut about $2.5 million from the budget. That will close one to three schools.

Superintendent Presiecke explained, "There's the possibility of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes. It's options that are really completely against what educators need to do to."

In November, similar tax referendums in Muncie and Michigan City failed. Statewide, residents have a reputation for rejecting additional property taxes.

However, Gregg West, a parent, is hopeful.

"When people hear the facts, where the school is at and the income versus the outgo, they will want to get involved and help," he said.

Buses will keep running no matter what. The decision is over what children find when they arrive at school.

Decatur Township and Mt. Vernon schools are among seven school districts across the state seeking tax increases in May referendums.

While schools are looking to tax payers for financial help, they're also watching Indiana lawmakers. Both the House and Senate have approved different versions of bills that would provide schools more freedom to juggle their existing tax revenue to work their way out of the financial problems.

What do you think? How can struggling school districts overcome their financial challenges? Leave your comment below.