WARSAW – State Rep. Dave Wolkins and leaders at Warsaw Community Schools Corporation are still at odds over their interpretation of funding for teachers.
Wolkins has been angered by characterizations from Warsaw Community Education Association President Terry Sims who, in an email to teachers, claimed Wolkins was “parroting” Republican talking points on education funding and predicted “more misdirection” in the future.
Wolkins, a longtime Republican state lawmaker from Warsaw, points to a large influx in new money made available by the General Assembly for education, but said he thinks Warsaw Schools did not take advantage of the increased funding.
Many lawmakers contend boosts in teacher pay rests in the hands of school boards.
The dispute between Wolkins and the school district is a rare instance of a state lawmaker openly sparring with a district and mirrors the state-wide battle over education funding as educators seek more financial support from the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The debate took a twist last week when the school district said Wolkins was inaccurate when he said in an earlier statement that the district planned to move $15 million from education to operations.
He later admitted the figure is $13.5 million over two years.
Wolkins claimed the school had more than $1 million available in new money this year that could have been spent – plus more than $350,000 in pension savings.
The school system says it’s spending about $773,966 on raises, including about $526,000 in new money.
School officials say the $15 million figure was a holding figure used early in the process as they worked through a different budget alignment.
Wolkins recently publically applauded efforts by Whitko School Board to provide teacher raises, but chided WCS in his statement, saying the teachers’ bargaining team did not get enough in negotiations when they settled for a deal that will provide teachers with a $1,400 pay hike.
School officials point out some educators got as much as $1,800 in raises and that Warsaw is in the midst of bringing starting teacher pay up to $40,000 by 2021.
In his statement released Thursday, Wolkins wrote, “I am stunned the board, who pushed the narrative that they are underfunded and invited Dr. Phil Downs to corroborate that two weeks ago, had what they considered a surplus in the education fund and asked to transfer out that much money.”
He continued, “The final transfer will actually be about $13.5 million, but that state tuition support is supposed to be used for classroom instruction, including teacher salaries. While a $1,400 raise isn’t bad, I think the WCEA bargaining team got the short-end-of-the-stick as a lot of money was left on the table that could have been used to pay teachers more.”
Wolkins’ full statement can be found below this story.
School officials disagreed with some of Wolkins’ assertions and issued their own statement Friday that was endorsed by District Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert and all seven school board members.
The school’s statement reads in part:
“Our schools are governed by a non-partisan school board of trustees locally elected to oversee the financial and operational integrity in accordance to local policy, state and federal law. Budgets and finances have been directly reviewed with Representative Wolkins and his representation is inaccurate.”
Find the entire statement below Wolkins’s statement at the bottom of this story.
Hoffert has said he doesn’t want to get into a war of words with Wolkins and was reluctant to comment Friday. At the same time, he and other officials provided financial figures to help explain their position.
Hoffert said Friday the school board is taking the same steps as every other district is in moving money over to operations.
That move became necessary this year after the state revamped the way education funds are divided up. Beginning this year, educators saw some of the money normally spent in the general budget (now known as the education fund) moved over to what is now known as the operations fund. Those costs include safety and security, mental health services, payroll, HR, utilities and other indirect education costs, Hoffert said.
The state allows districts to move as much as 15 percent over to operations to cover those costs. Hoffert said the district will stay under the recommended 15 percent when it eventually moves the approximate $13.5 million next year.
Sims’ comments about Wolkins coincided with the Red for Ed rally in Indianapolis that drew thousands of teachers to the state capital in a unified call for increased spending on teacher pay, among other things.
Wolkins said proposals voiced at the rally would require a tax hike.
“While everyone jumped on the bandwagon and showed their support for public education recently, they have not shown interest in raising taxes or pressuring their local school board to prioritize classrooms,” Wolkins said.
Hoffert declined to say if he has any regrets about Sims’ email that seemed to spark the debate and stressed that Sims and the education association are an independent voice in the matter.
Wolkins and some school officials had met a week ago after Wolkins’ first statement and Warsaw officials thought they had made some progress.
Both sides were tentatively set to meet again Monday, Dec. 9.