CEDAR LAKE — Before fears of the novel coronavirus led to mass school closures, several Hanover Community School Corp. teachers were settling into new classrooms.
Hanover Central Middle School health teacher Christina Brasseur and Jaclyn Grigutis, who teaches digital citizenship and business and information technology classes, traveled their buildings on carts until about three weeks ago, leading class out of a different room every period as other teachers’ rooms opened up during prep time.
In late February, Brasseur and Grigutis abandoned their carts for space in one of the Hanover district’s two newly installed mobile classroom units.
One sits just southwest of the main entrance at Hanover Central Middle School. The other is placed outside the district’s Lincoln Elementary School.
“We want it to feel like a classroom, so we’re making it our own,” said Brasseur after moving into her room at the end of February. “The kids like having their space.”
The mobile units were installed this winter in the growing school community after a failed referendum attempt last spring left district leaders grappling to meet the demand of rapid increases in enrollment.
Home building in the Hanover Community School Corp. — serving parts of Cedar Lake, St. John, and even stretches of Dyer — has exploded in recent years.
The district of more than 2,400 students in grades kindergarten through 12 has seen an increase of more than 300 students since 2015, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education, and is only expected to grow.
Districts leaders are watching closely as more than a dozen new housing developments are expected to bring thousands of new homes to Hanover Township.
School leaders say they’re making every effort to keep class sizes steady.
At the middle school, an average class has about 24 students. In Hanover’s two elementaries, classes can range from 21 to 27 students in each class.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is our smaller class size,” Hanover Central Middle School Principal Tom Martin said. “There’s no telling how high it could go, and that could impact everything.”
The district moved its approximately 200 fifth grade students into the middle school last school year to relieve overcrowding at Hanover’s Lincoln and Jane Ball elementaries.
Lincoln Elementary’s mobile unit, outfitted with two temperature-controlled classrooms and a restroom, was assigned to Debra Meekma’s computer science classes.
All kindergarten through fourth grade students rotate with their teacher into the unit for assigned half-hour “specials” time outside of their regular classes.
The district could assign a second teacher to the mobile classroom unit next year, if needed.
At Hanover Central Middle School, the need for space is more pressing.
Seventy new students have enrolled at the middle school since the start of the school year, Martin said.
Prior to extended coronavirus-related school closures, both of Hanover's two mobile classrooms were in use. One was being shared between two health teachers.
Inside the building, school leaders converted an office and a teachers’ lounge into makeshift classrooms.
Students were restricted to use specific stairwells during passing period, and one French teacher was sharing rooms with a math teacher.
The mobile units, adding four total classrooms to the district, are only seen as a temporary band-aid. More units may be needed, school officials say, if enrollment growth continues.
“We appreciate having the mobile units, but they’re not a long-term solution,” Martin said. “I don’t think people realize that we’re at capacity.”
Seeking taxpayer support
The district asked residents for a 56 cents per $100 of assessed valuation hike in taxes last May for a proposed $30.5 million upper elementary school and other district projects. The referendum failed by a 3% margin.
So the Hanover district will try again.
After successfully securing more than 600 property owner signatures in a petition needed to return to taxpayers this spring, Hanover school officials say they’ve heard concern from the community that what the school corporation asked last year wouldn’t be enough to provide a sustainable, long-term solution for district growth.
The district now plans to ask a maximum 85 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in construction funding, plus a continuation of its current 29 cents per $100 of assessed valuation referendum.
The new capital projects referendum plan seeks to bring a new third through fifth grade elementary school, corporation resource central, community athletic building and middle and high school improvements for an estimated $79 million in districtwide improvements planned to see Hanover schools through the next decade.
Taxpayers could see an anticipated $16.89 monthly maximum increase based on the district’s median home value.
Commercial and rental property owners could see a monthly increase of $15.79 based on a $100,000 property, and tax on farmland could increase 25 cents per acre, according to district estimates.
But even if voters approve Hanover’s spring referendum, the school corporation may still struggle to house students during the multiple years needed to finish construction projects.
With nearly $80,000 spent in delivery, set-up and removal fees, a 36-month lease projected to cost more than $2,200 per unit a month and $330,000 in infrastructure work needed to bring the mobile units into operation, Hanover school officials say the temporary classrooms bring more than $570,000 in fees the district will never recover.
This total could grow if more mobile units are needed.
“We understand its huge task,” Martin said. “We’ll need to change sooner rather than later.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced two weeks ago the state would push back its scheduled May 5 primary election date to June 2 in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the unexpected shift, Hanover Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay said she believes supporters of the district will continue to work hard through phone calls and social media to spread word about the referendum.
"We had great momentum," she said. "The people who are committed to that, they haven’t changed their commitment."
2020 Referendum: Hanover Community School Corp.
2020 Referendum: Union Township School Corp.
2019 Referendum: Duneland School Corp.
2019 Referendum: Hanover Community School Corp.
2019 Referendum: River Forest Community School Corp.
2018 Referendum: Crown Point Community School Corp.
2018 Referendum: Lake Central School Corp.
2018 Referendum: Lake Ridge School Corp.
2017 Referendum: School City of Hammond
2017 Referendum: School City of Hobart
2017 Referendum: School Town of Munster
2017 Referendum: Lake Station Community Schools
2017 Referendum: School City of East Chicago
2016 Referendum: Gary Community School Corp.
2016 Referendum: New Prairie United School Corp.
2015 Referendum: Lake Station Community Schools
2015 Referendum: Valparaiso Community Schools
2015 Referendum: Hanover Community School Corp.
2015 Referendum: River Forest Community School Corp.
2015 Referendum: Gary Community School Corp.
2014 Referendum: Metropolitan School District Boone Township
2013 Referendum: Michigan City Area Schools
2013 Referendum: Union Township School Corp.
2013 Referendum: School Town of Munster
2013 Referendum: Metropolitan School District Boone Township
2012 Referendum: Duneland School Corp.
2011 Referendum: Lake Central School Corp.
2011 Referendum: Crown Point Community School Corp.
2010 Referendum: Rensselaer Central School Corp.
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