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home : most recent : finance/insurance December 13, 2018

7/11/2018 7:10:00 PM
Indiana officials developing system to monitor school district financial distress

Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — State officials have begun developing a financial indicators monitoring program for all public schools in the hope of eliminating the need for more takeovers of financially distressed units, such as the current status of the Gary Community School Corp.

House Enrolled Act 1315, approved in May, established the Indiana Fiscal and Qualitative Indicators Committee to initially identify which data should be used to evaluate a school district's financial status, and then develop a "dashboard" website for Hoosiers to see where their schools stand.

The seven-member committee is led by Courtney Schaafsma, executive director of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board. Last year, DUAB appointed and currently oversees the emergency manger running Gary schools, under a 2017 law supplanting the local school board after it repeatedly failed to balance the district's budget and racked up more than $100 million in debt. 

Schaafsma told the Indiana State Board of Education Wednesday that the indicators committee is just getting started figuring out which factors should be considered signs of potential school corporation financial distress.

"At this point in time, we don't know what those indicators may be," Schaafsma said. "We will be doing a trend analysis because we don't want to just look at an isolated year or two — the statute asks that we look at a longer time-frame."

Schaafsma said the committee is hoping to prepare a draft indicators plan by Aug. 23. A public hearing on the plan tentatively is scheduled for Sept. 6, with the final plan set for adoption Sept. 27.

The State Budget Committee must review the proposed financial indicators, likely in October, before the dashboard is launched shortly afterward.

School districts that appear to be in financial trouble will undergo a board assessment for distress. 

DUAB then can require a struggling school corporation to implement a corrective action plan.

Under the law, districts that fail to adopt or follow the corrective action plan will go on a "watch list" for possible action by the administration or General Assembly.

Vince Bertram, a state school board member from Indianapolis, said school district leaders, and all Hoosiers, stand to benefit from an improved understanding of the financial condition of their local schools.

"I think this is a great opportunity to help inform the public around school finance," Bertram said.

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