- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - A central Indiana school district that has struggled to find money to keep its school buses rolling for the next three years has found the needed funds thanks to a surge in teacher retirements.

Muncie Community Schools Chief Financial Officer Mark Burkhart says staff reductions and an obscure law that allows the district to shift some money around are expected to give the district the $2.6 million it needs to pay for bus service in the third year of a three-year contract the board approved recently.

The wave of retirements is prompted in part by changes in state law that have made retirement more attractive to many educators, The Star Press reported (http://tspne.ws/1jtfova ).

So far, more than 40 district teachers have opted to retire this year, compared with fewer than 20 around the same time last year, human resources director Lon Sloan said.

Burkhart said the retirements can make up losses in the transportation fund if enough of those positions go unfilled. The average teacher salary and benefits is around $62,000; he noted the district would save more than $1 million if even 20 of those teachers aren’t replaced.

The retirement savings are good news for the district, which faces a significant loss in its transportation fund in coming years because of tax caps and legislation dictating how property tax revenue is allocated. The district tried last year to raise money for buses through a property tax increase, but voters rejected the request. School officials then asked the state to approve a waiver so they could end bus service starting next year, but the Department of Education denied the request.

That left the district to find another way to fund transportation.

State lawmakers this year gave a temporary break to more than 90 Indiana school districts facing transportation funding cuts that threaten their bus service.

A measure signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence gives a three-year reprieve to districts expected to lose more than 10 percent of their property tax funds - some $112 million statewide - under a protected levy law passed in 2012.

The 2012 measure diverts money from school districts’ transportation, bus replacement and capital funds to pay off debt.

That law’s provisions take effect in July and come as schools are already struggling with funding losses from property tax caps that have reduced money coming into districts for transportation and capital maintenance.

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com