LOOGOOTEE – Workers toiled long into the night Monday to complete the renovation project at the two Loogootee schools in time for classes to begin Tuesday.

Only minor tasks remain, such as completing the painting of the hallway walls, which is being done after school hours.

“The start of school could not have gone better,” Superintendent Chip Mehaffey told the Loogootee School Board Thursday afternoon. “The students came in eager to learn, and they love their new work places.”

Mehaffey said he heard lots of good comments about the schools from parents and others who viewed the results of the renovation project. The major work was a complete overhaul of the heating and air conditioning systems in both buildings. There were also more than 3,000 pieces of furniture purchased.

U.S. Rep. Larry Buschon (R-8th District) will visit Loogootee schools in a couple weeks, Mehaffey said. The congressman wants to observe the Project Lead the Way courses, as well as Lion Manufacturing.

Once all the renovation work has been completed, Mehaffey said an open house for the public will be scheduled.

Every year new federal and state laws have an impact on school policies, Mehaffey said. The board approved, on second reading, the updated school policies which conform to those new laws.

The superintendent gave a brief overview of the annual five-step budget process: Review the proposed budget, advertise it on the state’s Gateway web site, hold a public hearing, adopt the budget and have the final budget figures certified by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

No action on the budget was taken by the board Thursday. The public hearing will be Sept. 5, with the time yet to be determined. The board is expected to adopt the 2020 proposed budget at its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Sept. 19.

Mehaffey said the DLGF usually certifies the budget in December, which allows it to take into consideration all changes in assessed valuation in the city for the entire year.

Different parts of the budget are funded by various means of taxation, Mehaffey said. Both debt service and pension board are need-driven. The amount needed for operations is funded by a capped levy. The state controls the amount allowed to be spent for operations, formerly known as the general fund. The school board desires how much goes into the Rainy Day Fund.

Mehaffey said the DLGF advises school boards to advertise their budgets higher than necessary in case there are unexpected changes in assessed valuation. The state can only lower budget requests; it cannot increase them. He said the goal is for students to receive as much funding as they are entitled to in the budget.

The proposed 2020 budget Loogootee school corporation will advertise totals $8,752,597, which is less than the $8,994,332 advertised for this year. The actual tax rate for this year approved by the state was $1.0288 per $100 assessed valuation. Mehaffey said financial experts who have looked at Loogootee’s budget figures estimate the tax rate for 2020 will be very similar to the one this year.

In other business, the board approved buying the Woods property just east of the middle/high school parking lot for $60,000. There is currently a house on the property.

The meeting closed with a presentation on a proposed trail system by high school health and physical education teacher Megan Jones and Loogootee Mayor Noel Harty. They said a group from Martin County is working with a similar group in Daviess County to seek a $6 million state grant to establish a trail system in both counties. The deadline to apply for the grant is Nov. 1.

Jones said $70 million is available for regional trails, while only $20 million is slated for cities or counties going alone. The grant would require a 20% local match, or $1.2 million, but she said most of that amount would be paid by Daviess County since that is where the majority of the trail would be located.

In Martin County, the proposed trail would begin behind the high school softball field, which is less than one mile from the Daviess County line. Jones said the initial proposal has the trail running to the Gasthof restaurant north of Montgomery, but ultimately trail supporters would like to see it extended all the way to Washington’s Eastside Park.

Jones said the trail would be eight feet wide and consist of crushed stone or asphalt. When built, it could be used for walking, running and bicycling. Obstacles would be placed on the trail to keep off golf carts and off-road vehicles.

The original plan does not call for lights along the trail, but Jones said that might happen later. She suggested corporate sponsorship for each mile of the trail, which those sponsors responsible for keeping the trail properly maintained.

Harty said most of the trail route would be located on public right-of-way, so permission of landowners would not be required. He said feedback from those who have heard about plans for a trail system have been largely positive.

The mayor said most people decide where to live based on the amenities that area offers. He believes a trail system would enhance the area and attract people to move here. He also said it was important for a trail system to have a destination.

“If a trail doesn’t go somewhere, it’s a waste of time and money,” Harty said.

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