Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

MC Weekly

January 29, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Peru schools chief seeks relief on debt-service law

Districts face 20% cut in transportation budgets

(Continued)

On top of that, the schools have faced a double whammy from the Legislature — a slash to school budgets in 2010, and the impact of property tax caps first passed in 2008. These brought deep cuts to the revenue available to patch leaking roofs, replace old buses, and get students to and from school. The district’s budget is down 20 percent since Brimbury’s arrival. He has cut $1 million from administrators’ salaries.

“We are down to the bones,” he told the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

Brimbury had traveled to the Statehouse, on a morning when the wind chill dipped below zero, seeking help from another legislative hit. This one came in the guise of a law compelling schools to pay off their debts using dollars now spent on transportation and big-ticket projects.

The law protects bondholders, especially those invested in what one lawmaker described to me as spendthrift districts “building Taj Mahals in cornfields.”

But that’s hardly Peru.

Rather, Brimbury’s already cut back bus routes and is now thinking of ending service entirely to students within 2 miles of the high school. In some communities, that might represent an inconvenience. In Peru, where so many students have few resources, it’s a crisis.

Ultimately, Peru might see a reprieve from a bill that would delay the start of the debt-service law for districts that otherwise might lose 20 percent or more of their transportation and capital budgets.

It’s more salve than solution for Peru. But for a no-excuses superintendent, that could be enough.

“I’m not asking you for more money. I just need some relief,” Brimbury said. “I just want you to help me get those kids to schools, so we can get them educated and break the cycle of poverty they’re in.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers, including the Kokomo Tribune. Reach her at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com and follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

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