VALPARAISO | One group broke out in cheers and another fell silent as it was announced Tuesday night that voters in Union Township approved a tax increase for its schools, while a similar proposal died by four votes for Hebron schools.
“I really didn’t think it was going to be as close as it is,” Union Township School Superintendent John Hunter said after viewing the district's 1,057-759 victory from the rotunda at the county administration center.
Yet he said the numbers still show that voters support the student programs.
“We are certain that we will be able to continue programs both in quantity and quality,” Hunter said. “We got what we need to continue."
The victory brought tears to the eyes of Julie Giorgi, Union Township Schools board vice president, who has three children in the district's schools.
“There would have just been so many things lost,” Giorgi said. “There’s just so many great opportunities we’ve been able to provide up to this point. I just didn’t want that to end.”
George Letz, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township in Hebron, took time off by himself to share the bad news by phone before returning to say he was disappointed by the district's 543-547 loss.
"We said all along that this would be a local decision by local residents, and the people of Boone Township have spoken," Letz said in a prepared statement. "Our job now is to make cuts in programs and staff so we can operate with our current level of funding."
Letz predicted the School Board will be forced to cut nine to 10 teachers. He said that will result in larger class sizes.
Letz said he planned to check today with election officials about the possibility of outstanding absentee ballots. He also plans to confer with those same officials and School Board members about the possibility of a recount because of the close vote.
Union Township asked 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 increase, which is outside the tax caps, will add $65 a year to a home valued at $100,000 and $195 to a $200,000 home, he said.
The approved tax increase is good for seven years.
If the proposed increase could be added to current rate of 0.94 per $100 assessed value, the rate still would be less than what it was in 2012 as a result of increased valuation in the area, he said.
The MSD of Boone Township had sought an increase of 23 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, which would have generated an additional $530,000 annually, Letz said.
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 have been outside the tax caps, would have added $77 in taxes to a home valued at $100,000 and $229 to a $200,0000 home, he said.