CHESTERTON | Voters spoke loudly on both sides of the Duneland School Corp.'s tax referendum. In the end, the results came out in favor of the 22-cent tax increase per $100 of assessed property value for a period of 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.
Superintendent Dirk Baer said, "Obviously we're very pleased with the support from our local taxpayers and would have certainly liked a larger victory, but we're happy with what we have. We think it was the right decision."
Duneland School Board President Janice Custer said she was surprised by the tight results.
"It was a lot closer than I thought it would be unfortunately, but we did win and it was victory for the students. It's wonderful because they are the ones who are going to benefit," Custer said.
After years of cutting staff and programs, school administration began conducting public forums in February and the School Board voted unanimously in February to place the decision in voters' hands.
The shortfall in the operating fund, one faced by many Indiana districts, stems from a policy shift downstate in 2008 when legislators cut property taxes by shifting education funding to the state.
At stake were 20 teaching positions and one-third of the custodial and clerical staff, which would have been cut had the referendum not passed, Baer had said before the election.
The district's expenses are projected to continue outpacing revenue at an increasing rate through at least 2019, he said.
The tax increase Duneland proposed will boost the district tax rate from 86 cents per $100 in assessed valuation to $1.08, which is still less than the state average of $1.18, Baer said. The increase would amount to $185 a year for a $178,800 average-priced home in the Duneland district, he said.
The school's rate is expected to drop by 3 cents in July and another 9 cents in four years as debt is paid down.
The additional revenue was needed because the district's general fund was reduced from $40 million in 2009 to $35.5 million last year, Baer said.
The district responded, he said, by eliminating 35 positions over the past two years, including 17 teachers and 15 custodial and clerical employees. The number of administrators shrank during the same period from 24 to 20, Baer said.