Duneland officials to call on public panel to help budget new tax money

2012-05-12T17:15:00Z 2012-05-13T23:44:07Z Duneland officials to call on public panel to help budget new tax moneyBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

CHESTERTON | In the wake of last week's tax referendum victory, Duneland School Corp. officials want to find three to five community members to help them decide how to spend the additional revenue.

The district expects to collect an additional $5.5 million each year for a total of seven years.

The school system likely will seek help from the local chamber of commerce to identify business leaders familiar with the budgeting process, Superintendent Dirk Baer said.

The group will come together in July or August and join administrators in presenting the budget proposal to the elected School Board, he said. The board then will discuss the proposal during its usual public budgeting sessions, he said.

The increased level of accountability, which school officials had touted in support of the 22-cent tax increase, likely will be of interest to the public considering the narrow margin of victory. The tax increase passed with 50.95 percent of the vote — a difference of just 153 votes.

Baer said on election night Tuesday he would have liked to have seen a more definitive victory. But, he said, the outcome reflects the right decision.

"We've never been anything but good stewards," he said.

Baer said the district's financial shortfall is the fault of the state and not Duneland schools.

He encouraged the public to contact state lawmakers and encourage them to put the priority back on public schools. Support downstate for private school vouchers has taken a toll on funding for public education, he said. The voucher program allows students to take their share of public funding to an eligible school of their choice.

"The pie is only so big," Baer said.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who serves on the Senate Budget Committee, said it is true local funding woes have been fueled by increased use of vouchers.

"I think it's going to get worse," she said.

The recession is also partly to blame, she said. After the state took over school districts' general funds with the intention of paying for them through sales tax proceeds, the economy faltered and there was less revenue available than expected.

School funding also took a larger hit than needed as a result of the state losing track of $320 million in business tax payments for five years, Tallian said.

Tallian said school referendums are only a good safety valve in the more affluent communities where there are many young children.

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