HEBRON | The Metropolitan School District of Boone Township is in financial trouble and won't be able to continue its present staffing and programs without a tax increase.
Superintendent George Letz made a pitch to the community in the first public forum to discuss the financial concerns facing the school district and possible solutions.
Letz explained the financial picture in great detail to residents, and presented a plan that would call for a property tax increase of 0.2338 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, raising $530,000 per year. A resident whose property is valued at $144,600 would pay an additional $144 more per year. A resident whose property was valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $228 more per year.
By law, a general fund referendum could raise money for the district for up to seven years, however, school officials have not decided how many years they will seek.
The School Board is scheduled to vote on whether to authorize a general fund referendum at a special meeting Jan. 22. If the board approves a referendum, it could be on the ballot in May.
Letz was hit with nearly a dozen questions from the community even before he finished his presentation. One man said taxes are already high on his commercial property and on agricultural land. He suggested the school district should have consolidated several years ago with a neighboring district, saving the cost of a superintendent and teachers. Others questioned the tax increment financing district and how that affected schools. Another resident said the school system's level of debt was a problem.
Standing in front of the Hebron High School auditorium with a microphone and following his PowerPoint presentation, Letz answered each question patiently and with great detail.
He explained that the district's problems were the fault of cuts at the state level and the tax cap. Letz said the district is projected to lose $806,123 this year as a result. Letz said schools cannot, by law, borrow from other funds such as the debt service, transportation or capital projects fund.
"We receive less money in state support than the state average," Letz told the community. The school district gets $5,190 per student. The state average is $5,668 per student. He said that money goes into the general fund and 95 percent of the fund is used for salary and benefits. The remainder supports programs.
Letz invited residents to contact School Board members and ask questions. He invited them to speak out at upcoming board meetings. Letz said the money generated through a referendum "would not make up for the entire amount the district has lost but it will keep it out of the danger zone."
He said the only other choices would be to make more staff cuts and increase class sizes, cut programs or merge with another district.