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home : most recent : property tax March 18, 2019

7/23/2013 7:18:00 PM
Hebron schools has few options after losing referendum
Referendums a growing trend
In May 2012, voters in the Duneland School Corp. in Chesterton approved a $39.9 million seven-year general fund referendum.

In May 2011, Crown Point residents approved a $35 million general fund referendum. And in November 2011, Lake Central School Corp. voters approved a $160 million construction referendum to rebuild Lake Central High School and Protsman Elementary School. It was the second time the issue was put before voters.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a two-year budget plan last session that increases funding for education by 3 percent. However, local school superintendents say of that 3 percent, less than half a percent goes to K-through-12 education -- and that includes funding for full-day kindergarten, charter schools and some $60 million for the state's private-school voucher program.

Carmen McCollum, Times of Northwest Indiana

In the two months since the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township lost its appeal to voters for additional funding, the district has reduced both teachers and programs, the superintendent said.

During a May special election, the school district asked voters to increase property tax payments by 23 cents per $100,000 of assessed valuation to raise $530,000 a year for seven years.

Voters said no by four votes, 547 to 543 .

Superintendent George Letz said a failed referendum has been a loss for students.

Letz said the Porter County district that borders Lake County has lost six teachers, four at the high school, one at the middle school and one at the elementary level.

Sections of various subject areas at the high school have been reduced -- including business, English and social studies -- by four sections each. Health/physical education also has seen reductions, and the Family and Consumer Science Department was eliminated, Letz said.

Hours for 16 auxiliary staff members -- such as classroom aides, librarians and custodians -- have been reduced.

And three grade levels at the elementary school will be overcrowded, in Letz's opinion, with 27 to 28 students in each class. He said there will be classroom aides in those rooms, but their days will be cut by two hours to 5.5 hours per day.

"People are disappointed that we lost by just four votes, but this is what we've been dealt," Letz said.

"In a rural community like Hebron -- with a low assessed value and a community that doesn't have light industry, which would cause the tax rate to go down -- it's difficult to pass a referendum."

In addition to the district's recent cost-cutting measures, Letz said the board also voted to restructure its $11.4 million bond issue used to help finance the new high school in 2003.

Boone Township was one of seven school districts across the state, including School Town of Munster and Union Township School Corp., that appealed directly to voters this year for more money in light of reduced state support.

The referendums passed in Munster and Union Township.

State law now requires referendums

With the passage of Public Law 146 in 2008, Indiana's General Assembly established property-tax referendums as a new mechanism of school funding for districts seeking to maintain or increase general fund money beyond established property tax caps.

The general fund pays for classroom programs and salaries and benefits. The law also abandoned Indiana’s petition-and-remonstrance process for most school construction projects in favor of going directly to residents for more money.

Terry Spradlin, associate director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University at Bloomington, said 42 of referendums since 2008 have passed and 46 have been defeated. That's a defeat rate of about 52 to 47 percent.

During this time, general fund referendums were more likely to pass (52 percent) than construction referendums (40 percent), he said.

"As long as the Legislature doesn't properly fund school districts, school districts will have to appeal to the public for a referendum," Letz said.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who visited the region in May, repeated the need for referendums to ensure Hoosier students receive quality programs.

Of the failed Hebron referendum vote, Ritz said, "I'd run that referendum again. They need to run it like a real campaign.”

Letz said the board has not decided whether it will again ask voters for a property tax increase to support the schools. Letz said there has to be a year's wait before another referendum vote.

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