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Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
News Blog Category - News The community forums on the reconfiguration/consolidation proposals continue at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at Riverview Elementary. Information will be presented on the proposals currently under consideration. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions.

>> Click here for a look at FAQs and some of the information that will be presented in the forums.

>> Click here for a look at the schedule for all the public forums.
Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
News Blog Category - News Musicians from Marion Community Schools will be the featured artists at this week's Concerts in the Gardens at the Garden House at Matter Park.

The public is invited to this free concert, which starts at 6 p.m., and we hope to see you there!
Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
News Blog Category - News The public forums on the reconfiguration/consolidation proposals get under way at 6:30 p.m. today, at McCulloch Junior High School's auditorium (on the second floor). Information will be presented on the proposals currently under consideration. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions.

>> Click here for a look at FAQs and some of the information that will be presented in the forums.

>> Click here for a look at the schedule for all the public forums.
Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
News Blog Category - News With financial pressures increasing, Marion Community Schools is evaluating its needs and looking to reconfigure to best meet those needs.

Here's a look at some frequently asked questions about the compelling factors, the proposals, the timeline, and more:

Q: Why is district leadership proposing reconfiguration?

A-1: Population and enrollment change

The student population served by Marion Community Schools has largely followed the same trend as area population. Since topping out in the 1970s (when MCS served about 14,000 students), MCS enrollment has declined over the years to a current total of about 3,575. (In that same time, population in the city of Marion went from about 39,600 to about 29,300). Over those decades, MCS has closed 10 school buildings. At this point, we have again reached the point where we have more school buildings than we need to serve our current population.







A-2: Budget constraints.

For the past several years, MCS has been in deficit spending. A healthy cash reserve (made possible in large part by the previous round of building closures) made this intentional spending on people, programs, and facilities possible, but we cannot continue in this mode for long.

Decisions in the previous round of building closures (in 2008) were made under extreme budget pressure. The cash balance had dwindled to less than 10% of expenditures, far below the optimal level. 

We are undertaking this reconfiguration now in order to stay out of such a situation. Our cash balance is now at a healthy level, and we need to keep it that way. This gives us room to deal with emergencies, and to continue to spend funds intentionally to meet needs, rather than be forced to make decisions based solely on financial worries. Our aim is to have a balanced budget by 2017, with our spending matching our revenue. As you will see below, it will be virtually impossible to do that without closing buildings. 
 

A-3: State funding

Decrease in per-pupil dollars:
Legislature-approved changes in 2015 to the "complexity index" mean less money from the state for the same number of at-risk Marion children. In 2016, the state will provide $909,000 less funding for the education of Marion students. (This number compares funding for the same number of students, 2015 vs. 2016. This is above and beyond the funding drop that comes with enrollment decline. It is a change in the way the state chooses to provide funding for additional offerings for at-risk students). Specific school communities will see increased funding in this budget cycle, but children living in communities like ours receive less funding.

Property tax circuit breaker rules continue to cost MCS. In 2015, this meant a $1 million loss in property-tax-supported funds (most notably: capital projects and transportation). That figure is only expected to grow. (This is the same law that is costing the city of Marion millions of dollars in tax revenue as well. In very basic terms, it caps the amount of property tax an owner can be charged, which means less money for all local taxing entities, including schools, libraries, cities, and counties.) See the table below for more information on the impact of the circuit breaker.
 
Grant County Taxing Unit Estimated 2015 Impact
 City of Marion - $2,609,899 
 Marion Community Schools - $998,927
 Eastbrook schools - $11,169
 Madison-Grant schools - $9,060
 Mississinewa schools - $117,222
 Oak Hill schools - $5,078
 All other taxing entities - $2,563,887
 Grant County Total - $6,362,242

It's worth noting that Marion Community Schools larger circuit breaker hit is not caused by a higher tax rate. (The amount of tax collected depends on many other variables as well, including assessed value of are property and the type of property — residential, farmland, business, but in simplest terms, Marion does not come out ahead on those variables, either.) The table below shows the Grant County tax rate for all local school systems since 2011 (which represents cents levied per $100 of assessed value).

  2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
Mississinewa 1.3176  1.3977 1.4539 1.2904  1.3991 
Oak Hill 1.2380  1.0900 1.2397  1.3730  1.3657 
Marion .8821  .8876 .9424  .7629  .8822 
Madison-Grant .7196  .7499 .7915  .8131  .8802 
Eastbrook .6884  .7767 .7990 .6526  .9528 

Pension debt repayment will continue to be a huge concern for MCS through 2024. In very basic terms, many years ago an agreement was made to restructure debt connected to pensions for previously retired educators. Starting in 2016, and through 2024, this means about $1.3 million is not available to be put toward building and facility projects in MCS's Capital Projects, Transportation, and Bus Replacement funds

So what does this all really mean? Quite simply: It has become virtually impossible for MCS to care for its current facilities without overspending our revenue. And if we continue to overspend our revenue (which in the Capital Projects Fund comes from property taxes), we will very quickly run through our cash balance and be in the position to make emergency decisions based solely on financial worries.
 
 
Q: How is MCS determining which buildings to keep open?

A: We are taking several factors into consideration, including:
  • Structure / space of specific facilities
The physical space inside a given building, and how that space is structured, is one major factor. The number of classrooms is a starting point for figuring building capacity. The type of amenities and the way the space is broken up is another. (For instance, there are different needs for different age groups when it comes to classroom space setup or restroom facilities. Another example is space that is tailored for specific programs, including science labs or specific CTE program facilities like a workshop.)

Features of the property itself, such as parking lot space and traffic logistics, green space, athletic space, and more, are also important factors. The location of the property can also figure into the decisions.
  • Current and projected enrollment
A look at current enrollment by grade level, and at projected enrollment trends, gives us an idea of what configuration options are possible, given the space available in specific buildings. 
  • Operational costs for specific facilities
The yearly cost of basic maintenance of the building structure and property (including salaries for custodial and maintenance workers), is another factor to consider as we look at ways to address our budget concerns. The cost per square foot is also a telling figure. The table below shows both figures for each MCS school building.

Operational costs of MCS facilities
  Allen Kendall Riverview Frances Slocum Justice McCulloch Tucker MHS
Yearly cost   $201,782  $157,986  $210,352  $183,878  $395,959  $370,708  $422,677  $1.3 million
Cost per square foot  $4.07  $2.94  $4.63  $3.68  $2.96  $3.10  $3.29  $2.93
  • Upkeep / maintenance needs for specific facilities
We have a long-term plan for building upkeep, and we plan funding for expected large projects several years out. Taking a wide look at this plan, it is easy to see which buildings have the most work needed in the upcoming years. This is a starting point when talking about the best ways to address our budget concerns, as these types of projects represent substantial investment of capital project funds. Here's a look at that wide overview:

We are also able to look at specific major projects that are being planned and budgeted for, and factor in what those savings would be if that building were selected for closure. 

 
 
Q: How is MCS planning to reconfigure?

A:  We will seize this opportunity to reinvent Marion Community Schools, to provide the best possible opportunities for our children, our community, and our future. Below are the general scenarios currently under consideration. (Note: No specific buildings have been definitely slated for closure. As we proceed through the public forums in September, these scenarios may very well evolve. In addition, we hope public input will help guide the decisions on which buildings to close, and what the remaining buildings will be used for.

Some additional notes: 
  • No scenario is set in stone.
  • Specific buildings have been considered (and those will be discussed at the public forums), but no decision for closure has been made at this point.
  • Grade configurations must fit within building capacity/structure.
  • Recommendation will be made after input from staff, parents, and public.
  • BOTTOM LINE: We will move forward with fewer buildings for 2016-2017.
Here's a look at the scenarios currently under consideration:

Scenario A: 2 buildings closed, remaining buildings configured as follows:
  • One preschool building 
  • Two buildings housing kindergarten through second grades
  • One building housing grades three and four
  • One building housing grades five and six
  • Grades seven and eight would be moved to the high school campus, where part of the building would become the junior high school.
  • Some career/tech ed classes would also be moved to the MHS campus, though some may be transformed based on community partnerships. 

Scenario B: 2 buildings closed, remaining buildings configured as follows:
  • Three buildings housing preschool through second grades
  • One building housing grades three and four
  • One building housing grades five and six
  • Grades seven and eight would be moved to the high school campus, where part of the building would become the junior high school.
  • Some career/tech ed classes would also be moved to the MHS campus, though some may be transformed based on community partnerships. 

Q: What is the timeline for the proposed reconfiguration?

A: The process began last spring, and we are planning for a decision in October. Here's a more detailed look:
  • Over the summer, a study team including district administrators and staff, building administrators, teachers, School Board members, and community members met several times to discuss options and narrowed them down to three proposed scenarios that are currently under consideration.
  • The full School Board reviewed these scenarios and approved the continued consideration of them in the regular board meetings in July. 
  • In August, the proposals are being taken to a wider base, including teachers and staff across the district.
  • In September, we will solicit further input at community forums open to the public. Click here for details on the schedule for these forums. An online survey will also be made available for members of the public to weigh in. The proposed scenarios may continue to evolve based on this input, and specific buildings will ultimately be proposed for closure.
  • In October, MCS administrators will bring their recommendation for specific building closures and reconfiguration for the remaining buildings to the School Board. We are planning for approval of the reconfiguration plan at the second October meeting, set for Oct. 28.
  • The approved plan will then begin to be implemented in November, and preparations will continue through summer 2016.


Below is the full slideshow that has been presented at the community forums:

Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
News Blog Category - News Take a tour through the district on the first few days of school with us! (The soundtrack is our award-winning junior high choir.) We're looking forward to a great year at Marion Community Schools. It's a great time to be a Giant!