MUNSTER | A possible tax hike to support the School Town of Munster drew criticism and support from residents who attended the first of two community forums Monday night.
As a result of cuts at the state level and property tax caps, Munster school leaders say they need a tax increase to support the general fund which mostly covers salaries and benefits.
The school district would like to raise taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to generate $3 million a year for seven years. If the general fund passes, it would be on the ballot in May.
For a home valued at $244,835, the tax increase would be $253 more per year, or $21.04 per month. For a home valued at $300,000, the tax increase would be $324 more per year, or $26.99 a month.
Barry Weiss said he moved to Munster in 1982 because of the school district.
"It's a wonderful system," he said. "I don't have any children in school right now but I do support the referendum. My daughter is a teacher here. The presentation was to the point, and it wasn't sugar coated, although I do have some additional questions."
Kenneth Alsager said he doesn't have any children and 43 percent of his taxes already goes to the schools.
"I already pay a lot in real estate taxes," he said, waving his tax bill. "Every parent should have to pay tuition. They want everyone to pay, pay, pay. Maybe, they should make it a parochial school so everyone has to pay. I would say no based on my tax bill."
During the presentation, School Town of Munster Superintendent Richard Sopko and Jim Higgins, a CPA with Indianapolis-based London Witte Group, explained the district has lost $4.5 million in the last three years as a result of cuts at the state level and property tax caps.
Sopko said the district cut $5.3 million from the general fund budget over the last three years due to the cuts, which including eliminating teachers and programs. He said if the district doesn't get a tax increase, more teachers will be eliminated and class sizes will increase.
"Tuition support from the state has been unkind to Munster schools," Sopko said, adding Munster's per pupil cost is $4,750 per student, one of the lowest in the state. It's also under the state average of $5,668 per student.
Sopko said the state's funding of virtual schools, charter schools and school vouchers all come out of the same pot of money that funds traditional public schools.
"Most schools in Indiana receive more funding than we do and it's not fair. We have to do something about it," Sopko said.