Try 1 month for 99¢

LOWELL — Indiana education leader Jennifer McCormick said school referendums will become a way of life for most districts across the state.

Next month, voters in the Crown Point Community School Corp. and the Lake Central School Corp. will vote on general fund referendums to shore up their respective school district operating budgets.

McCormick said every school district in the state may have to consider it.

The Indiana General Assembly in 2008 passed a law establishing referendums as a new mechanism of school funding. A referendum allows a school district to go directly to voters to ask for more money to fund schools beyond what the state provides.

A school district can ask for a general fund referendum to support the operating budget, or a construction referendum to support renovation of school buildings or new construction, or both at the same time.

McCormick said the schools that are conducting referendums are sending a message that they don't have the funds they need to operate or for construction purposes.

"If the school district is not getting enough money through the state's basic tuition support to give teachers the raises they deserve or to keep programs alive, that's the trigger to say we need more money," she said.

McCormick, who was at Lowell High School Thursday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Tri-Creek Solar Fields and the new Red Devils Trades Building, took the time to speak with reporters.

McCormick said the positive aspect is the state has this mechanism for school corporations to generate money; the downside is that it goes on the shoulders of taxpayers, and she said sometimes that can be difficult.

"There are some districts in Indiana that can run a referendum with their eyes closed and it would pass nine out of 10 times, and there are other districts that may work tirelessly and do a solid job at a referendum but there's no way it's going to pass because of the makeup of the community," she said.

"I'm not being critical of either, it's just the reality of what we're seeing."

But McCormick said in the last couple of years, more referendums have passed, and that's a positive sign of community support for schools.

"We're in it for the long haul with referendums. We're going to see more and more of them. You'll won't hear a superintendent saying they'll never do it. There's so much volatility out there with the student enrollment, property tax caps, programming, graduation pathways and diploma requirements, that it's become an option to generate money," she said.

Arming teachers

McCormick does not support arming teachers as suggested by President Donald Trump.

"No one has stopped me or reached out to me, and said they thought that was a good idea," she said.

"I am not anti-guns or weapons, as long as they are handled by law enforcement or school resource officers, and those type of people who have been tactically trained and feel comfortable in that role."

McCormick has said school safety has been on her mind a lot following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 people and prompted a nationwide, student-led movement against gun violence.

She's also said she was disappointed the Republican-controlled General Assembly failed to approve Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's proposal to add $5 million to the $9 million Indiana already spends annually on safety grants to local schools. She's hoping that proposal will resurface during a special legislative session next month.

Accomplishments statewide

Mccormick, who was elected in 2016, said her administration can point to some accomplishments.

"I believe we've brought back a calm to the field and it was more difficult to do than I initially thought it would be and credibility back to the office," she said.

"We've worked hard to develop a great assessment and accountability department. We've revamped a lot in our accountability department. We've enhanced our partnerships. We still have areas to work on and grow, but we've done some good things."

As McCormick walked around the school's new greenhouse and talked to students in Lowell High School teacher Kevin Garling's landscaping class, she said she is impressed by many schools in Indiana.

"There are great schools in Indiana and Lowell is doing a good job of bringing together a comprehensive academic program, with the trades and technology, and that can be hard to do for some of our schools," she said.

Lowell senior football star Jordan Jusevitch said he didn't exactly know who McCormick was initially but once he learned that she was in charge of all schools across the state, he said, "that's awesome."

Jusevitch said he's going to IU Bloomington and will be playing football for coach Tom Allen.

"That's great. I know him. I'm going to tell him I met you," she said.

Senior Zack Scott told McCormick he has joined the Army and leaves for basic training July 31. He said the landscaping skills that he's learned in Garling's class, along with the two-plus years of experience he's had working for a landscaping company, will allow him to "get a job right out of high school if he chooses."


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.