MUNSTER — The School Town of Munster is one of three Northwest Indiana school districts which returned to voters for more tax dollars.
Munster schools superintendent Jeff Hendrix has said the new operating referendum, approved in May 2017, increased the 2013 operating referendum of 19 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, to 42 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That will raise $6.9 million for seven years to support student programs, retain and attract quality teachers/staff and establish reasonable fund balances.
At the same time, the school corporation gained approval for an additional $48 million construction referendum to repair and renovate all the school buildings.
There's just no other way for school districts to generate money for salaries and benefits and operate extracurricular programs, said Munster teachers association President Ryan Ridgley.
"I think people just need to be diligent about making sure the money is used correctly," Ridgley said. "I think it's important that school corporations (that) go after referendum dollars are open and honest with the public. Nobody likes their taxes increased, but it's a necessary evil when it comes to funding things like schools or roads."
In Munster, school leaders said the vast majority of referendum dollars have been used for the salaries and benefits of certified staff. In 2014-17, the school district also used funds for the payment of Tax Anticipation Warrants, which routinely are used by school corporations and other governmental entities to borrow money to maintain services while awaiting state and county money.
The district also used referendum dollars to pay a portion of the district's utility bills in 2016.
No referendum funds were used for bonuses, school leaders said, nor spent on supplies, school trips for students, travel by school employees, or equipment.
Here's the breakdown by year during that span:
+ 2014: Referendum dollars supported salaries and benefits for 42 certified employees.
The district spent $647,692 on salary and benefits for elementary teachers; $596,367 on salary and benefits for middle school teachers; and $903,882 on the same for high school teachers.
The district repaid $1.8 million borrowed to maintain school services until it received tax money.
+ 2015: Funds supported 28 certified employees. The district spent $540,225 on salary and benefits for elementary staff; $575,701 on the same for middle school staff; $724,789 for high school staff.
The district spent less than $4,000 on salary and benefits for employees who worked in vocational education, consumer and homemaking and on athletic coaches. It repaid $1.8 million borrowed to maintain operations.
+ 2016: Funds again supported the salaries and benefits of 31 certified employees, as well as some utility expenses ($249,812). The district repaid an operations loan of $1.8 million.
+ 2017: The salaries and benefits of 40 certified employees were supported. $634,249 for elementary teachers; $674,344 for middle school teachers; and $943,739 for high school teachers. It repaid a tax anticipation loan of $2 million.
Each year, the district also paid miscellaneous expenses for the cost of money it borrowed.