Wednesday, September 24, 2008

WLCSC Bail-Out

The front page of yesterday’s Journal and Courier juxtaposed the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission’s pending decision to extend what is essentially a line of credit of up to $1 million interest free dollars to the West Lafayette Community School Corporation, with the Congressional debate on the Federal bailout of the nation’s shaky financial institutions.

That seems apt.

The West Lafayette Community School Corporation’s financial condition is shaky. This is not just bad karma or some payment glitch.

Long the beneficiary of a 70’s tax accident that has usually placed the West Lafayette School Corporation among the top ten districts for property tax levy per A.D.M. and assessed value per A.D.M. (average daily membership), ( new state funding formulas born of State House Bill 1001 jeopardize its formerly privileged tax status.

Gone are the days when the system could count on $.53 or $.54 of every West Lafayette property tax dollar. State sales taxes will pay for education. Parity and consolidation are the aim. Demographics are the measure. In a 2002 study done for the School District, the Kelley School of Business sketched three possible enrollment futures for Westside in “Gross”, “Net”, and “Zero” Growth Surveys . . . lets call them the “Happy”, “Okay”, and “Sad” Predictions. At 2101 students, current attendance is much closer to “Sad” than “Okay”.

The district is at the top of its borrowing limit. Apparently there are no cash reserves.

I believe Mayor John Dennis and Redevelopment Chair Larry Oates are to be complimented for hitting on this innovative, short-term funding plan. But it can’t happen every year. The interests of the City of West Lafayette and the West Lafayette School Corporation grow more divergent with every new home built north of Kalberer Rd., and every “kiddie condo” purchase and rental conversion south of Kalberer Rd.

Aware of the school leadership’s insult of Dr. Sarah Mustillo, some in my district have rightly concluded that they could be better served. By an administration that is still able to focus on child development. By an administration that acknowledges the necessity of marketing the Westside schools not only to tuition payers, but also within the city’s older neighborhoods, to the bright and eclectic young families who live there and whose ability to recruit others to their multi-generational, multi-class neighborhoods could help this great school system survive.

Hopefully the bail-out provides time to do that.

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