INDIANAPOLIS – As Indiana students head back to class, many school districts are struggling to cut costs in the face of high prices that are affecting everything from the classroom to the front office.

At this time last year, skyrocketing inflation had resulted in prices increases across the board:

  • Bread: +110%
  • Proteins (meats/cheeses): +10-15% 
  • Utilities: +8-10%
  • Paper: +15%
  • General School Supplies: +7-10%
  • Cleaning/Sanitizing Products: +15-20%

The good news, according to representatives from multiple central Indiana school districts: prices haven’t gone up since last year. The bad news: they haven’t gone down either.

“Those significant increases that were realized this time last year have just stabilized,” said Beech Grove City Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Hammack.

Hammack says some of the biggest cost challenges in 2023 are outside the classroom. Those include construction, maintenance and labor costs, as well as delays in getting materials. 

Officials in other school districts agree.

“An air handler that we needed was ordered in the fall of 2022, but did not arrive until last Friday,” said Edinburgh Community Schools Superintendent Ronald Ross in mid-July.

Similar issues affected several maintenance projects in Beech Grove.

“The cost that was realized as a result of those projects were in some cases three times as much as what we would have initially budgeted for,” Hammack said.

“To combat escalating food costs, IPS is adopting cost-effective measures, including utilizing commodity items, menu shifts, and contract pricing adjustments, without compromising the nutritional value of meals,” said Indianapolis Public Schools spokesperson Marc Ransford.

“To deal with rising energy costs,” Ransford continued, “IPS has partnered with Cenergistic, renowned for energy management expertise, by implementing an energy conservation program that has resulted in a 25% reduction in energy use since 2018, saving the district $18.1 million in energy costs.”

“The good news is the pricing has not worsened for CCS this year,” said Carmel Clay Schools Assistant Superintendent Roger McMichael.  “Therefore we are not planning for major adjustments to our 2024 budgets. We are optimistic the labor market is improving.”

Districts across Indiana continue struggling to retain enough bus drivers while compensating for high fuel costs.

Such adjustments are not coming without some cuts. Beech Grove recently eliminated roughly $700,000 in administrative staff positions.

“We had an assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction,” Hammack said. “We had a director of elementary education. These are all critical roles for our district to run well, but we did not want to take dollars out of the classrooms.”

And while Beech Grove is not laying off any teachers, the district is also not replacing them when they leave or retire.

All the while, a new state law now prohibits school districts from collecting fees from families to pay for things like books, iPads and Chromebooks. Despite the state setting aside $160 million a year to reimburse schools, many districts are expected to be short by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hammack believes Hoosier voters should be prepared for their local school districts to come to them for help in the form of tax increases in the near future.

“Several districts are considering referenda for this fall ballot, or even in the spring ballot, that would be asking the community for more support,” Hammack said.