Residents of the Union Township and Hebron school districts will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to grant property tax increases to help make up for state cuts in education funding.
The two districts, and Munster in neighboring Lake County, are just the latest to make the local plea for more money.
Similar referendums were approved last year for Chesterton-area schools and the year before in Crown Point; voters in the Lake Central School Corp. agreed in 2011 to fund two construction projects.
Union Township School Superintendent John Hunter predicted that referendums are coming for other local districts as well, as they too find themselves in the tough spot of deciding whether to seek more money or make deeper cuts.
"We're trying to maintain what we have," he said.
Union Township is asking voters to approve an increase of just under 22 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, which would generate an additional $1 million a year, Hunter said. The proposed increase, which would be outside the tax caps, would add $65 a year to a home valued at $100,000 and $195 to a $200,000 home, he said.
If the proposed increase were added to current rate of 0.94 per $100 assessed value, the rate would still be less than what it was in 2012 as a result of increased valuation in the area, he said. The total tax rate for residents living in Union Township is $1.56.
The Metropolitan School District of Boone Township in Hebron is seeking an increase of 23 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, which would generate an additional $530,000 annually, said Superintendent George Letz.
Other districts can generate much more with that size increase, but Boone Township has a low assessed valuation, which compounds the problem of the state funding cuts, he said. The low assessed value contributes to a school tax rate of $1.81 and a level of school debt that far outpaces the other six districts in the county.
The proposed increase, which would be outside the tax caps, would add $77 in taxes to a home valued at $100,000 and $229 to a $200,0000 home, he said. The total tax rate for someone living in Hebron is $3.07 and the rate for those in unincorporated Boone Township is $2.45.
Letz said before deciding to ask voters for more money, the district cut teaching, custodial and administrative positions, and is poised to refinance its debt to save money through lower interest rates.
If the referendum is not approved, the district will have to cut nine teachers — three at each of the elementary, middle and high school levels, he said. This will result in more students per classroom, particularly at the middle school.
Hunter said Union Township has cut six elementary teachers since 2010 and has carried out retirement buyouts. Travel also has been reduced, and staff cuts have reduced the amount of time buildings are made available for public use.
If Tuesday's referendum is not approved, Hunter is prepared to initiate an effort the following day with the School Board to figure out where to make deeper cuts. He said 85 percent of the targeted budget is composed of salaries and benefits.
"We will be talking about programs that hit kids," he said. "We will be talking about people."
Boone Township schools has 1,112 students and 4,500 voters in its district. Union Township has 1,532 students and 6,000 registered voters.