School Town of Munster cancels referendum vote, for now

2012-07-17T12:40:00Z 2012-07-18T09:27:04Z School Town of Munster cancels referendum vote, for nowBy Carmen McCollum, (219) 662-5337

MUNSTER | The School Town of Munster will not seek a referendum in November asking taxpayers for more money.

In a special board meeting Tuesday morning, School Board President Paula Nellans, reading from a prepared statement, said the referendum is canceled based on input from the new administration and community members over the past three months.

"School funding continues to be a difficult issue in this state," Nellans read. "State cuts made to public education in the last three years total nearly $1 billion, and yet the state surplus has risen to over $2 billion. The School Town of Munster per pupil funding is the 10th lowest in the state, ranking 348th out of 357 public, charter and virtual schools."

Nellans said the School Town of Munster has made numerous budget cuts, including administration, teachers and staff, which have resulted in an annual savings of $3.2 million.

Nellans said the new administration, now led by Superintendent Richard Sopko, will take a fresh look at revenue and financing options as well as additional cost-cutting measures that minimize the direct impact on students. She said the board remains committed to upholding the tradition of high achievement the community expects of the Munster school system and will continue to review the need for a referendum over the next several months.

After the meeting, Sopko said, "We're not saying it will never happen, but we are saying there will not be a referendum at this time."

About 15 people, including a few residents, teachers and other school employees attended the meeting.

Andja Marich, now a special education teacher in Dyer and a former Munster administrator, said she attended the meeting in her role as a resident. "I wanted to get more information about what is happening. Lots of people lost their positions a couple of years ago," she said.

A couple of weeks ago, a committee of 40 people was charged with looking at the school system's budget to determine if there was a need for a referendum, Sopko said.

The committee recommended a general fund referendum be placed on the November ballot asking taxpayers to pay an additional 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. A homeowner whose house was valued at $220,000 would have an increase of about $168 a year on the property tax bill.

If the school district moved forward and voters approved the referendum, it would have raised $3 million a year for the next seven years.

Sopko, who was the former assistant superintendent handling finances, has said Munster's problems are the result of cuts in 2010 when the governor ordered $300 million be slashed in K-through-12 education. 

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