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Candidates weigh in on Franklin school budget

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Franklin’s next school board will decide early next year how to deal with funding shortfalls from property tax caps, a decision that will affect students and families in the school district for the coming years.

The tax caps limit how much can be charged in property taxes based on a property’s values and was part of sweeping tax reform legislation. The caps also have had a significant impact on local governments and have become a concern for school districts.

Because of tax caps, the Franklin school district is not bringing in enough money to make all of its debt payments and is limited in funding for new buses and building projects. Those funding shortfalls were identified as a top issue by the candidates running for Franklin school board.

Incumbent William Maschmeyer and Timothy Lavery are running for one open Franklin Township seat. Cory Cooper, Kristine Ott, D. Christopher Bass, Joseph Skeel and Bryan Wertz are running for two open Franklin city seats. All voters in the Franklin school district can vote in the school board races.

The three winners who join the school board will vote on any changes to Franklin’s courses or educational policies, evaluate the superintendent and approve the yearly budget.

The seven candidates want to continue to research recommendations made last month to lower the school district’s future annual debt payments to at least $14 million per year, which would leave an annual shortfall of about $2.7 million.

Last month executive director of finance Jeff Mercer said that amount would continue to limit funding for buildings and buses but is a more manageable amount than the district would face when debt payments rise in 2015.

School board candidates also offered ideas and suggestions for how to cut spending, reduce expenses and bring in more revenue.

Skeel proposed accepting money for advertisements posted on the school’s website and buses, and Bass said Franklin needs to look for additional advertising dollars as well.

Wertz said Franklin should consider renting the auditorium and other facilities to outside groups.

Currently Franklin rents its performing arts center to outside dance companies and other groups, and three churches rent the middle school and high school rooms on Sundays.

The rentals should bring in about $130,000 by the end of the year, but that amount has to cover performing arts program costs as well, performing arts director Doug Corliss said.

Cooper is worried about running out of money for technology as well as bus replacement costs, and believes Franklin should let students bring their own devices to use in class.

That way Franklin has less technology its responsible for upgrading, he said.

Skeel, Lavery and Maschmeyer all said Franklin’s priority is to find a way to reduce its debt payments immediately.

The school district likely won’t have refinancing options to choose from for a few months, but Lavery wants board members to work closely with Mercer and Superintendent David Clendening before making a final decision.

Because the school district has limited funding to spend on buses or buildings, Franklin needs to think about how often it replaces or upgrades these items, Lavery said.

Employees and managers from different departments need to be involved in any conversations about cuts or repair delays, because that could wind up costing Franklin money, Lavery and Wertz said.

Maschmeyer said the school district already has made cuts and he isn’t sure what’s left to eliminate, and that Franklin should consider taking out loans to pay for building projects and buses that property taxes no longer fund.

“I wish we could cut more, but I don’t think we can. Not without hurting programs,” he said.

Ott said that while financial issues are a top priority she would have to learn more details about Franklin’s situation before making a specific recommendation.

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