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Chesterton High School

Duneland School Corp. will turn to voters this May asking for a continuation of its 7-year, $41 million referendum passed in 2012. The new referendum, if passed, will carry the district through 2026.

CHESTERTON — Duneland School Corp. will be seeking an extension of its $41 million 2012 referendum in a public vote this May.

The School Board unanimously approved plans last month to move forward with a May 7 vote to continue the district’s seven-year tax of 22 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Superintendent Judy Malasto said the funding will allow the district to continue providing instructional and support needs throughout the corporation to keep up with changes in education.

In the past seven years, referendum funding has helped Duneland keep class sizes down, expand vocational and STEM-based programming, and provide a nurse and school counselor in every school building.

“It’s absolutely our goal to make sure people have an understanding of all of the things our kids are doing as a result of proper funding,” Malasto said.

Judy R. Malasto

Judy R. Malasto

The 2012 referendum has brought the district just over $6 million in funding annually, Duneland Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz said, contributing to the school corporation’s total $28.5 million in annual tax funding. With state support, Kwilasz said, the district operates at about $69.6 million annually.

The state’s education funding model has led districts to increasingly turn to referendum support. Based predominantly on enrollment totals, educators have criticized the state’s public education support, in which the money allocated to schools follow the student.

Duneland has chosen to turn to its community for support as its enrollment totals have remained steady, Kwilasz said. Enrollment in Duneland schools has hovered consistently just above 5,800 students for the last five academic years, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

The district’s state funding has been reduced by more than $5.3 million since 2008, according to the Duneland School Corp.’s referendum website.

“The state of Indiana has made it possible to say if your school corporation needs more monetary support to do what your community wants done, then you have to go to them in a referendum to ask for more of that funding,” Kwilasz said.

Duneland will join two other Northwest Indiana districts seeking referendum support this May. Last month, the Lake County elections board approved referendum votes for both the Hanover Community School Corp. in Cedar Lake and the River Forest Community School Corp. in Hobart Township near New Chicago.

When the Duneland district first turned to the community in its 2012 referendum, Kwilasz said it asked for funding for seven years, the maximum allowed under state law. This May’s vote will look to continue referendum funding for another seven years through 2026 at no tax increase. The 2012 referendum passed by a narrow 51-49 percent vote.

“That makes us more mindful that every vote matters,” Kwilasz said.

In 2012, Duneland was among the first districts in the Region to seek referendum support. Crown Point Community School Corp. and Lake Central School Corp. successfully passed referendums in 2011.

Kwilasz said she believes this time around, voters are more informed about the referendum process. She said the school corporation is now focusing on making sure residents have their district funding questions answered before election day and are registered to vote.

In an open letter, Board President Brandon Kroft appealed to the greater Duneland community, pointing to the district’s contribution to property values.

“Everyone in Duneland knows that value of being in a community where people want to send their kids to the schools,” Kroft said in his letter.

“Passing this referendum will contribute to the vitality of our community and make Duneland a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Duneland School Corp. has three upcoming community meetings planned to discuss the referendum; one at 2 p.m. March 21 at the Duneland Administration Center, another at 2 p.m. April 3 at the Westchester Public Library’s Baugher Center, and a third at 7 p.m. April 23 at the Liberty Intermediate Library and Media Center.

Kwilasz also encouraged residents to look for more information on the district’s referendum website found at www.duneland.k12.in.us.

Coming Monday: In Lake County, both the Hanover Community School Corp. in Cedar Lake and the River Forest Community School Corp. in Hobart Township near New Chicago, also are asking voters to approve referendums to raise money. See Monday's print editions or go to nwi.com.

A look at referendums that have passed and failed in Northwest Indiana

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.