Calumet Township property owners could see an increase on future property tax bills if voters approve two Lake Ridge schools referendums on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Lake Ridge school leaders say the rate increase is long overdue.
With four schools and one administration building, officials have resorted to doing more with less for years amid crumbling infrastructure and unfunded state mandates, Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said.
Johnson-Shirley said the campaign to rally supporters has been an uphill battle but one worth fighting for.
“Any time you get involved in somebody’s finances, there’s going to be an upheaval," Johnson-Shirley said. "But I think through our several community meetings, people are beginning to understand our needs. For years, we’ve operated on the bare necessities.”
Two referendums are on the table.
If both pass, a homeowner with Calumet Township’s median home value of $70,000 would pay $160.84 more annually, records show.
One referendum would raise $22.4 million — or $2.8 million annually — over the next eight years to maintain educational curriculum and more. It would raise property taxes another $1.0028 per $100 assessed valuation.
A separate construction referendum would increase taxes in the school district by $1.1192 per $100 assessed value on private property, raising a total of $44.3 million over 20 years to renovate and repair various New Tech School buildings.
For comparison, voters in Hammond and Hobart school districts successfully passed referendums this past election — raising the tax rates by 44 cents and .246 cents in each respective district to fund critical educational programs, operations and teacher salaries.
"We know we have high poverty rates here and we have been considerate in our asking price. We took in consideration what our taxpayers could possibly afford, based on the needs that we have. If you have a home, you can’t just keep patching. We're at the point we have to make major repairs," she said.
Several school districts have passed referendums in recent years to shore up funds, she said.
“Our children are no different. They deserve a quality education in quality surroundings,” Johnson-Shirley said.
Programs, staffing at stake
Staffing cuts and a loss of capital projects are in the forecast if the referendums fail, according to Business Manager Laura Hubinger.
Hosford Park New Tech Elementary would be closed and all but one security officers would be eliminated from the school district, she said.
The district has already made nearly $3 million in cuts with the closure of Grissom Elementary, outsourcing of custodial, food service and transportation services, staff reductions, and eliminating summer school opportunities.
The uncertainty and constant cuts are having an impact on the district’s ability to hire and retain good teachers, Johnson-Shirley said.
“Teachers are jumping ship and leaving. We need money to pay for their salaries, benefits, to keep up with cost of living,” Johnson-Shirley said.
In 2020 alone, Lake Ridge schools will lose $3.5 million due to the circuit breaker tax breaks, Hubinger said.
Without the added revenue, bus services will be eliminated.
“It’s a definite hardship for the parents and children. We have no sidewalks. No street lighting. And that puts our kids at a major safety risk,” Hubinger said.
Capital improvements, repairs
School officials have said the added revenue is needed to replace $3 million a year the school will lose under a state-mandated cap on the maximum property taxes that can be charged. The tax cap can only be removed by a voter referendum.
Immediate capital project needs include updated security and accessibility changes to comply with the Americans with Disability Act, electrical upgrades and HVAC replacements.
Classroom technology, transportation, essential supplies and new technology would also be paid for through increase revenue, she said.
The district is hosting an informational meeting Oct. 22 immediately following its 6 p.m. board meeting at the Lake Ridge Education Center, 6111 W. Ridge Road.
Referendum literature will be available during the high school’s Trick-or-Treat event beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Oct 30. Parents and community members will have the opportunity to use the district’s property tax calculator and meet one-on-one with a school official to discuss the referendum.