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Hanover Central School Corp. voters said no Tuesday to a request for a construction project to address growth.

But River Forest School Community School Corp. and Duneland School Corp. have both passed operating referendums seeking to support educational programs, school upkeep and more throughout their districts.

Early voting numbers in River Forest showed a 'No' response leading, but election day polling ultimately pulled in the district's favor.

"We try and instill hope every day and make a difference in the lives of young people," Superintendent Steve Disney said in a statement Tuesday night. "Today, the community supported our schools in helping us make a difference in the future."

Duneland schools passed their referendum Tuesday with overwhelming support. As results were counted, the Chesterton school corporation saw 'Yes' votes outnumber 'No' to the tune of 3 to 1.

In Cedar Lake, however, early results showed the Hanover district down by a margin of less than 100 votes. A watch party gathered at Harry O's Family Restaurant waited until just after 9 p.m. to disband following the results.

In addressing the district's volunteers Tuesday night, Hanover referendum volunteer Andy Yakubik attributed much of the referendum's failure to voters' complacency. Early results from the Lake County Board of Elections showed voter turnout in the county at just around 15%.

"A lot of people didn't get to the polls, thinking their vote didn't count," Yakubik said. "Hopefully, this hits home to them."

The referendum votes in the Hanover, River Forest and Duneland districts come just one week after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, amid statewide demonstrations, signed a new, two-year budget allocating a $753 million increase to education funding, including 2.5% annual increases in student tuition support.

However, many public education supporters were critical of the budget, claiming it contained no language specific to increases in teacher pay and did little to account for inflation.

The state's current model of education funding, shared among both traditional public and an increasing number of charter schools, has effectively turned Indiana into "a referendum state," public education advocates argue, leading schools to increasingly turn to their communities for support.

A total of 96 referendums have been sought in Indiana in the last five years, according data from the Indiana Department of Education. Twenty-one of those referendums failed.

Property tax caps, already in place in Porter County and going into effect at the end of the year in Lake County, also place a high burden on Northwest Indiana school districts that rely on taxpayer funding to support everything from educational programs to maintenance and utility services. 

Last month, Lake Ridge New Tech Schools, which saw its November 2018 referendum fail, announced layoffs and a school closure planned to help prepare for expected financial losses next year. A failed Lake Central School Corp. referendum in 2009 saw similar results to what can be expected in the Hanover district if projected growth continues — classes being conducted outside the school in mobile trailer units.

Growth in Hanover not met with referendum support

Hanover — projecting an increase of 250 to 300 students in the near future — turned to its communities, encompassing parts of growing Cedar Lake, St. John and even some of Dyer for support of a $44 million construction referendum.

Following recent restructuring in the district with fifth grade classes being moved into Hanover Central Middle School, Hanover administrators conducted a facilities study determining the need for more instructional space in the district.

The school system's requested 56 cents per $100 assessed value referendum was slated to fund the construction of a $30.5 million elementary school serving third through fifth grade on property already owned by the district. The plan would add instructional space; Hanover schools currently has only two empty elementary level classrooms between its Jane Ball and Lincoln elementary schools.

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The alternative, administrators said in an April community meeting, would mean placing students in temporary mobile classroom units, or trailers.

"There is no other option," Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay said late Tuesday night. "We have one room in both of our elementary schools, and our middle school is at capacity."

In the weeks leading up to the referendum vote, Hanover saw substantial opposition from Cedar Lake residents concerned about bearing the costs associated with growth in Cedar Lake and neighboring communities. 

Referendum supporters focused their efforts on combating what they said is the spread of misinformation.

Hanover's failed referendum Tuesday follows an operating referendum for 29 cents per $100 assessed value passed in 2015 with 54% of the vote.

Hanover supporters will have to wait two years before they can seek another referendum.

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Yes votes in River Forest, Duneland

Duneland schools sought an operating referendum as a continuation of its current tax of 22 cents per $100 assessed value passed in 2012.

The Duneland vote will bring $41 million to the district over the next seven years and help the district continue funding support staff positions, professional development opportunities, technology upgrades and more.

The district's previous referendum passed with just 51% of the vote. Funds raised in that referendum allowed the district to support placement of a school nurse and counselor in each of Duneland's nine buildings, as well as to hire two additional school resource officers.

This time around, the school corporation saw support in numbers more than three times those opposed. Coalitions of parents, business and even students rallied around the referendum effort in neighborhood canvassing, community meetings, phone banking and more.

River Forest turned to its community for support in a decision district leaders said could make a difference in whether the school corporation can continue busing its students to school.

The district asked taxpayers to vote in favor of a $1.19 per $100 assessed value property tax to replace its current 42 cent per $100 assessed value operating referendum. The 42-cent referendum passed in May 2015 with 69% of the vote.

Taxpayer funds raised through the referendum approved Tuesday will help River Forest sustain an expected $600,000 funds lost to 2020 property tax caps. That $600,000 is roughly what the district pays annually for its transportation services.

This May's referendum is expected to collect a total of $1.6 million for the school corporation and will only cost taxpayers $1.09 per assessed value for the first two years of the eight-year referendum, according to a River Forest School Board Resolution approved in April.

Despite a sprinkling of "Vote Yes" and "Vote No" yard signs throughout the district, School Board member Richard Perez said community support was apparent, especially on election day.

"The kids are the reason why we won," Perez said. "They were at the polls, handing out fliers and talking to people. This is a great accomplishment for this community."

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