HEBRON | Administrators, parents and staff in the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township have done a lot of work to make residents aware of and educate them about the upcoming school referendum vote.
The district is asking Boone Township voters to pay an additional 21 cents per $100* of assessed property valuation to raise $479,315 per year for seven years. The average home in Hebron is valued at $155,000 and it would cost a homeowner an additional $144 per year. The referendum will be on the ballot May 6.
Last May, the district asked voters to pass a referendum and lost the measure by four votes. That forced Boone Township Superintendent George Letz to cut costs by, in part, eliminating six teachers — four teachers at the high school, one at middle school and another at the elementary level. The reduction at the elementary level caused some classes to have more than 30 students in a class, and even larger classes at the high school.
Sections of various subject areas at the high school were reduced, including business, English, social studies, health/physical education and family and consumer science classes. The number of hours worked by some auxiliary staff members such as classroom aides, librarians and custodians also were reduced, and some classrooms were overcrowded.
Letz believes there is more support for a referendum this year.
"We've been canvassing the neighborhoods, the whole community," he said, adding that wasn't done last year.
"We're sending out two letters this week to households. We've had teachers answering questions on the social networks. We have a PAC committee made up of private citizens, and they're talking to their neighbors."
Last year, only 28 percent of the 3,874 registered voters turned out, Letz said. There was only one item on the ballot. This year, there are more items on the ballot, and Letz expects more people will vote.
Letz believes parents are more aware of what's going on because of the reductions administrators were forced to make last year.
"I think they see firsthand how this has affected our students in K-through-12. I don't believe they want to see further reductions. I see more signs up around the community supporting the referendum, and I believe there is greater interest from parents," he said.
One of the letters will be sent home to parents. A second letter will be sent to residents who are 55 and older to explain how the general fund works and the importance of supporting the school district even though their children may be adults, Letz said.
The general fund is a school district's main fund and 90 percent of it pays for things such as salaries and benefits, while a small portion goes toward programs and supplies. The general fund is now funded by the state based on a state formula.
"Even if you don't have children in the school system, you're supporting younger families with children," he said. "It's very important that a community have a good educational system. We have been good stewards of our tax dollars."
Bill Sopko, of Hebron, a member and former president of Iron Workers Local 395, in Hammond, said he and other members assisted the school district last Saturday by walking door to door and passing out fliers about the referendum. Though Sopko's children are adults, he said he supports the school system.
"We have an excellent educational system here and you can see that by the ratings we get," he said.
"The graduation level is good. Everything about this system is really excellent. It's a shame the state doesn't fund the district adequately and you have to go to the community. I think a lot more people realize what's going on here now. They understand the problem, and they have an opportunity to fix it."
The district has received an A rating from the Indiana Department of Education for four consecutive years.
Sopko said sometimes people don't come out to vote, thinking they'll skip it because everyone else is going, but he said, "I think we'll see them at the polls this time around."
*This story has been changed.