EDGERTON — District Treasurer Bill Blakely was brimming with excitement at Monday’s Edgerton Local Schools Board of Education meeting.
Overall, the district’s revenue is $155,000 higher than it was in November 2020. And in his five-year forecast, Blakely projected the district’s general fund would grow from $5.5 million to $7.6 million by 2026.
October’s income tax revenue increased by 2.5% over his year-to-date comparison because, “The economy is bouncing back from COVID-19,” he said. “We expect another 2% in 2022 and anther 1-2% every year after.
“The forecast overall shows a positive, growing balance through 2026,” he said. “That’s a very, very good thing. When I first started here six years ago, we had a carryover of $1.5 million. It’s $5.5 million now and expected to be $7.6 million by 2026. Maybe more, depending on federal policy and how they roll out funds.”
Blakely said that employee salaries and benefits consume a majority of the budget each year but the district was in a “sweet spot” with salaries limited to 70-80% over the next five years.
“We must be cautious after that,” he said. “It could jump to 85% but there are potential retirements I haven’t factored in. Those would trend it back down.”
Health insurance benefits for employees constituted the fastest growing expense with an 8-9% increase this year and no signs of slowing down soon, he said.
“Overall, I’m happy with where we’re at,” he said. “It’s a testament to fiscal responsibility. We’re in a healthy position, looking for what we can do to help our students and grow the district the best we can. I am very excited.”
Superintendent Kermit Riehle recommended the board consider creating an autism unit in the school’s annex, once it has been renovated to utilize additional offices and classroom space.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of students on the autism spectrum throughout the state every year,” he said. “I feel it’s time to move forward and offer additional services.
“I hope we can serve our students and provide opportunities for other districts in the area as a proactive measure,” he said.
The Bryan and Montpelier school districts both have cooperative autism units, he said. Smaller school districts that do not have autism units send their students to them and split all costs associated with educational expenses from transportation, meals, classroom aids and specialized therapists. His proposed unit in Edgerton would work the same way, he said.
“We would start with one classroom, with a teacher and paraprofessional, for kindergarten through fifth grade,” he said. “If there are enough participating districts to stay in the black, we could expand with another unit for sixth to 12th grades.
“There aren’t many options out there other than the IEC (the Independence Education Center in Defiance),” he said. Busing students from Edgerton to Defiance is a 62-mile round trip from Edgerton, and even farther from Edon and Pioneer.
Riehle also stressed the proposed autism unit “would not be a dumping ground for behaviors,” which the IEC is often perceived to be, though the IEC does focus on teaching students to manage behaviors so they can return to their own districts.
“We’re on the cusp of providing services to students who cannot succeed without them,” he said. “This is cutting edge. Students would be integrated in specials, art, gym and any other classes as they are able.”
Board member Tom Flegal said he liked the idea, but did not want to rush it.
“I would love to have the kids here but those costs add up fast,” he said. “85% for salaries and benefits is scary. We don’t want to be in a position where we have to cut positions or lay people off.
“I think COVID money has inflated our budget,” he said. “I’m skeptical of any district in the black all five years. If the state sees that, they can cut funding and we’ll have to cut people.”
Blakely responded that “very little” federal COVID relief funds had been used in his forecast or the state’s, and the district would have to pay the same specific autism-related expenses “wherever they are.”
“I want Edgerton students in the Edgerton district at the Edgerton school,” Board President Bob Siebenaler said. “We have to start it and sustain it but there are a lot of unknowns. I’m certainly for it. Pursue it. But we need to see more numbers.”
Flegal added that any renovation to the annex would have to include space for gifted students as well. “They need a separate space to excel,” he said. “So often we focus on bringing everyone up we forget to challenge gifted students. They should not, for lack of a better term, be punished.”
The board went into executive session at 7:19 p.m. to discuss personnel evaluations and employment. They took no action upon returning to open session.