Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

December 11, 2012

Brownsburg Challenger Center to close

Bart Doan

BROWNSBURG — Following a recommendation from Brownsburg Community School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Jim Snapp that the Challenger Learning Center cease operations at the end of the 2012-13 school year, the school board voted unanimously to end the program that has been a fixture in town since 1994.

Snapp cited heavy financial losses over the past decade, coupled with diminishing funds as opposed to when the program opened, as reasons that it was no longer sustainable to keep it open.

“The center has served the community since 1994 very well over the years,” Snapp said. “However, a review of the financial records for the CLC detail extensive losses for the corporation.

“The past two years I’ve worked with Mary Patterson, director of the CLC, to shore up financial losses. During that time, I shared with Mrs. Patterson that it was critical to the CLC’s future in Brownsburg that it be a break-even venture, which it’s not. During that time, Mrs. Patterson retired and then returned on a part-time schedule to reduce cost. One flight director retired and returned on a part-time schedule to reduce cost. Three other flight directors reduced their work schedules from full-time to part-time to reduce costs.”

Snapp said the CLC offered a mission option over fall break that had to be canceled because of low registration and that distance learning fees were down 30 percent from last year as well as fees paid by schools other than Brownsburg.

“From 2002 to present, the CLC has generated $1,827,724 in revenue with expenditures of $3,620,800 for a loss of $1,793,076,” Snapp said.

He said that figure does not include the annual licensing fee and utilities to operate the facility, which come in at around $440,000 in additional losses.

Snapp said they tried to increase the fees three years ago, and that has nearly tripled the number of registration fee gains in that time coming from Brownsburg students, but he felt like students were essentially subsidizing their own education.

At the conclusion of last year, he said the CLC was still nearly $80,000 in the red, coupled with the additional fees for licensing and utilities, which brought the losses since 2002 to around $2,400,000.

Once the center is closed, Snapp said funds could be saved and directed into classrooms for BCSC students.

Several community members requested that the school board give them a little extra time so a group could be put together to find a new home for the center, thus not rendering it completely gone.

“Know up front that we will do all we can to support that group,” Snapp said., but he added that making the decision to cease operations now is imperative so employees can look at other employment options within the school system.

BCSC board member David Ayers added, “This is a very difficult decision, no question. I wish the CLC all the best and this doesn’t preclude any discussion on ongoing opportunities, but this is a necessary decision and one that we have been monitoring for quite some time. I think, on behalf of all the children in Brownsburg, a thanks goes to all the staff and anyone and everyone who’s ever devoted themselves to that mission.”

Board member Kim Armstrong cited the growing population in Brownsburg and the likely need in the future for more teachers.

“It’s very near and dear to my heart since it opened,” she said. “It’s always been kind of a star for us that we had it because it was run by such great people. We’ve tried many different ways to raise revenue, but because our dollars today are so tight compared to what they were when the CLC opened, we can’t with good conscience spend that kind of money. I think our constituents would rather see smaller class sizes for their children.”

School officials say that over the last five years, they have had to deal with more than $6 million in budget cuts.

Additionally, the Brownsburg CLC suffered when a center opened in Decatur Township, less than 20 miles away. The two centers are closer in proximity than any others in the nation, aside from two in New York City. By comparison in the Midwest, the next closest challenger centers to one another are more than 100 miles away.

Donna Petraits, communications coordinator for the BCSC, said, “It’s unfortunate and part of the problem is that all schools are cash strapped, so schools that used to send students for field trips aren’t much anymore. As a parent, if my child is paying to go there and I’m already paying taxes, now I’m paying twice. This is a horrible decision to have to make but this is what happens when dollars become tighter and tighter and slip away continually. We have done incredibly well with the hand we’ve been dealt and have not had to ask for a tax increase. We continue to focus our resources and energy on the classroom and reducing class sizes and that’s what the community has said is important to them.”

The Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center is the 22nd of 52 Challenger Learning Centers that span the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain.

They were originally established as a remembrance to the 51-L Crew that lost their lives in January of 1986 in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion. The Brownsburg center offered a litany of programs, including simulated space missions, distance learning programs, teacher training, professional development, enrichment programs, and corporate missions.

In addition to the Brownsburg and Indianapolis centers, the state has another in Hammond.