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School request tabled


November 17, 2010
Per its request, Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the Crawford County Community School Corp., attended last Tuesday's meeting of the Crawford County Council to provide more information regarding a possible renovation project for which he is seeking financial assistance. It remains unclear if the council will approve his request.

Eastridge first approached the council in September about using up to $500,000 — $250,000 this year and $250,000 next year — of gaming revenue the county distributes to the school corporation for existing debt service to pay upfront costs on the new project, which would renovate the science labs and media center at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School. However, the gaming dollars he wants to use are part of a cash balance the corporation has built up, Eastridge said, explaining the corporation would continue to make the same payment amount on the existing debt during the two years in question.

The new renovation project — which Eastridge has called the final pieces of several needed physical upgrades at the school that opened in 1976 — would gut the six existing science labs and turn them into three modern science labs and one vocational agriculture lab while also updating the media center.

The total estimated cost is between $1.7 million and $2.3 million, and the balance — less any amount of gaming funds the council would allow to be used — would be paid with a no-interest federal loan that would be tacked onto the end of the current loan to renovate the corporation's five elementary schools in the late 1990s. According to a debt service rate impact study, the new loan could be repaid in two years — 2022 and 2023 — by extending the current rate for those years instead of increasing it. In fact, if the county continues to get, then share with the school corporation, gaming revenues, the debt service fund tax rate would be 0.27 and 0.11 in those years, respectively, less than the 0.39 rate this year.

However, some members of the council are concerned that the uncertain economy and tight finances make additional debt questionable. William Breeding, an at-large member, said this month's election showed that Americans are frustrated by spending and debt incurred by governments. He noted that state governments in New York, Illinois and California are all in trouble financially and may have to make substantial cuts.

"I can't help but believe some of that's going to come to Indiana," he said.

Breeding said he took Eastridge up on his invitation to tour the existing science labs, and, while he understands the need for the project, he would like for other possibilities to be explored.

"I will help you in any way I can," he said. "I will even help you look for money."

Breeding said he wants to be fiscally responsible so the council doesn't regret allowing the school corporation to use gaming money on the project in case the economy worsens and finances become even tighter.

"But in this case, Bill, I'm not asking for any new money," Eastridge said.

Jerry Brewer, president of the council, noted that Eastridge's numbers are based on the assumption that there will be no other capital projects requiring a loan.

Brewer, along with Breeding, said he would prefer for the school board to vote on the project and then approach the council. He asked Eastridge if the school board is in favor of the project.

"I believe there's a strong majority," Eastridge answered.

The county council has allowed the school corporation to use gaming funds for other projects in the past, including for security upgrades and to fund full-time kindergarten. Still, Brewer said he is hesitant to vote to release gaming dollars for the renovation project until the impact on taxpayers is determined.

"I just don't think we have enough information at this time to say we want to release it," he said.

The council voted 6-0 (Councilman Jim Taylor was absent) to table the request until the council's attorney can review it and until if, and when, the school board approves a resolution supporting the project.

The school board is expected to discuss the project at its meeting tonight (Wednesday) at 7:15 at the high school.

Eastridge previously said that, if things go smoothly, he hoped to present the school board with final drawings from the architect in November, in time for a December vote to allow him to seek bids. That would allow for project construction to begin during spring break and be completed by the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

The county council's next meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 14, at 6 p.m. at the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English.

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Schuler Bauer
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