State of the Schools: Lawrence Township superintendent talks financial health, building renovations

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Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township Supt. Shawn Smith delivered plenty of good news at the Feb. 4 State of the Schools presentation.

He began by showing a video of sentiments from staff, alumni and the city’s mayor about the success of Lawrence Township schools. He then talked about the district’s financial health, graduation rates and referendums.

“Over 21,000 people voted in the referendum, and almost 15,000 people said ‘yes,’” Smith said. “We won every single precinct. Every single community said ‘yes’ to our school referendum, and that deserves a big applause.”

The item is a $191 million capital referendum for renovations to 10 of the district’s schools. 

“I believe the message we sent is very clear, that we needed to do something for our schools and our students,” Smith said. “It is about the young people. We have to give back to the next generation of young people. We have to make sure our youngsters receive a quality education, and facilities and our teachers make a difference.

“Our students need great facilities and resources, and they must have great teachers, and so that investment back into them will make a difference.”

FINANCIAL HEALTH

MSDLT’s annual budget is $180 million. It receives $111 million from the state. MSDLT Chief Financial Officer Michael Shreves presented on the district’s financial health and shared numbers such as an approximate $10 million in cash balance and $6.5 million in a rainy day fund. In the past several years, MSDLT has spent $156 million on renovations without a tax increase by managing its debt structure. The district has an A++ bond rating.

“Why is that rating important to us?” Shreves said. “Well, taxpayers just approved our referendum of $191 million. By having A++, our interest rates our lower. That’s our credit score. That means we can put more into the buildings for our kids and pay less for the interest.”

The district’s tax rate is the fourth-lowest in Marion County.

“You’ll hear out in the community that you should run a school like a business,” Shreves said. “Well, I’ve been on both sides of that. I’ve been on the business side and the school side of that, and I disagree. I say you run it like a school but treat it like a business.”

MSDLT Chief Financial Officer Michael Shreves presents on the school district’s financial health.

TEACHER IMPORTANCE

Smith stressed the importance of hiring skilled teachers and retaining them.

“We have been able to give our teachers raises six years in a row,” Smith said. “Not every school corporation can say that, and we are really proud of that.”

The district is one of the largest employers in the township with 2,539 staff members. Seventy percent live in Lawrence Township.

“That’s an incredible number in a big metropolitan area,” Smith said.

Smith also noted the district’s 92.7 percent graduation rate.

“We are moving our graduation rate up, and more and more kids are graduating from high school,” Smith said. “More and more kids are staying in school and graduating.”

For more, visit ltschools.org.

Renovations to come 

With the passing of the $191 million capital referendum last fall, Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township will soon begin renovations on 10 buildings: Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools, Oaklandon Elementary, Forest Glen Elementary, Brook Park Elementary, Winding Ridge Elementary, Brook Park Early Learning Center, Winding Ridge Early Learning Center, Mary Castle Early Learning Center and Amy Beverland Early Learning Center.

By July, all 10 sites will be bid out and each will break ground within the next six months. The process will take three to four years.

Outside of the referendum, a new transportation facility soon will be built near Pendleton Pike between 52nd and 56th streets. The current facility at 5850 Thunderbird Rd. has a capacity of 96 buses, and the district houses more than 200 on that site.

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