School Town of Munster considering referendum on tax increase

2013-01-31T20:00:00Z 2013-08-06T14:01:10Z School Town of Munster considering referendum on tax increaseCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

MUNSTER | The School Town of Munster wants to go directly to the voters for a tax increase to avoid laying off as many as 20 teachers, cutting programs, reducing custodial services and eliminating some health insurance benefits.

Superintendent Richard Sopko said the district would like to ask voters to consider raising taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to generate an additional $3 million a year for seven years. The general fund referendum would assist the general fund budget, which mostly covers salary and benefits.

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.

Two public forums are scheduled to give the community an opportunity to hear a presentation about the budget problems and discuss the issues. The sessions are set for 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in the Munster High School auditorium.

The board is expected to vote on a tax increase Feb. 11. If approved, it could be on the ballot in May.

Last year Munster school leaders considered a general fund referendum, which would have taxed residents 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and raised $3 million a year for seven years. However, Sopko said the district decided against it because it didn't have the community's support to raise taxes.

Since that time, Sopko said the district launched an effort to educate the community about the general fund and explain the school district's financial picture. Sopko said he has held about 121 meetings talking to business leaders, politicians, service clubs, the Munster Education Foundation and residents about a tax increase.

"The community forums have been set up to give the public, as a whole, an opportunity to hear about the financial situation and let them ask questions so residents can make an informed decision," he said.

Sopko and consultants also reworked the numbers, reducing the request from the initial figure of 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. And, Sopko said if the school's financial picture improves, the district may not need to generate as much money each year.

Sopko said the School Town of Munster has cut $5.3 million during the last three years. It will face a $3.8 million deficit in the 2013-14 school year. He said cuts could include a reduction of 20 teachers, reducing custodial services by 30 percent, eliminating some health insurance benefits and reducing transportation costs.

"The state has a surplus of $2 billion, and they must do something regarding these funding issues," Sopko said. "I'm an advocate of public education, and the students in the Town of Munster and across this state deserve a good education. The state needs to devote more resources to education and to the task of educating our youth."

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