On Tuesday, voters in Munster and Porter County’s Boone Township and Union Township will go the polls to decide whether to approve a referendum for property tax increases to maintain the level of education currently offered in their school systems.
It’s part of a growing trend as public school systems wrestle with state budget cuts to education that total more than $300 million since 2010.
Last May, voters in the Duneland School Corp. in Chesterton approved a $39.9 million seven-year general fund referendum to offset a funding deficit. Voters approved a 22-cent tax increase per $100 of assessed property value for seven years to aid the district's operating fund. The measure passed with 50.95 percent of the vote — a difference of just 153 votes.
In May 2011, Crown Point residents approved a $35 million general 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. November's victory represented years of discussion about growing enrollment, overcrowding and aging facilities.
School districts have complained annually about changes in the funding formula and cuts in kindergarten-through-12th-grade education that have forced districts to lay off teachers and paraprofessionals such as teachers' aids, and eliminate programs.
After a law was changed in 2008, the state assumed funding for each school corporation’s general fund through an increase in the sales tax. Before that, schools were supported by property taxes.
But the Great Recession that began in 2008 hindered sales tax revenue — which in turn reduced funding for schools. Educators also said their budget problems were caused as a result of statewide cuts to education during former Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a two-year budget plan that reduces the personal income tax rate and increases funding for education by 3 percent. However, local school superintendents say of that 3 percent, less than half a percent goes toward 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.