EDITORIAL: Vote yes on school tax referendums

2013-05-05T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Vote yes on school tax referendums nwitimes.com
May 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

There are separate extenuating circumstances, but the core problem faced by the Munster, Union Township and Boone Township school districts is a failure of the state government to adequately fund the operation of local schools.

When Indiana took over funding for school operations, it raised the state sales tax to remove school operations from property tax support. But now voters in Union and Boone townships and in Munster are being asked to approve property tax increases.

School districts across the state have been hit by wave after wave of financial difficulties, some of them created by the state Legislature.

Vouchers to send children to private schools dilute funds once set aside exclusively for traditional public schools.

Property tax caps have caused pressure on schools in Munster and Hebron, reducing the property tax support for other school expenses.

Munster has lost so much money that the debt service fund almost couldn't pay school debts. The general fund, which pays for salaries and other operating costs, would have been tapped.

Munster is also hurting because few kids receive free and reduced price lunches, a big factor in the school funding formula. Munster receives just $4,776.12 per pupil in state support -- far below the $5,707.10 state average. Munster ranks 355th out of 363 school districts.

Already, cuts have been made. Superintendent Richard Sopko is working for the same salary he received when he was an assistant, for example. More cuts will be necessary -- growing more severe every year -- if voters don't approve the requested 19.9-cent increase in the tax rate.

MSD Boone Township -- the Hebron school system -- is asking for a 23-cent property tax rate increase to generate an estimated $530,000 per year.

The district has 65 teachers, but nine of them could lose their jobs if the referendum fails, Superintendent George Letz said. That's a big cut for a workforce so small.

Already, Hebron has eliminated the assistant superintendent position and five full-time teachers.

The small district has gained 79 students this year because of open enrollment, bringing additional state support. Otherwise, the financial crunch would be even worse.

Union Township seeks a 22-cent maximum increase in the district's tax rate. 

In 2010, the district eliminated six elementary teaching jobs. More cuts are guaranteed if the referendum fails.

Union Township was fortunate to have a good cash balance and a large rainy day fund going into the recession, but those reserves are depleted.

For each of these school districts, the ideal solution would come from the Indiana General Assembly, but that's not the remedy the Legislature has offered.

It's up to the local voters and taxpayers to raise their own property taxes to maintain the quality of education in their district. This isn't about new programs, but stabilizing the status quo.

We urge voters to vote yes on the referendums in Munster, Hebron and Union Township.

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