Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels once said Northwest Indiana was entitled to all the bad government it was willing to pay for.
The voters in some recent Region public school referendums have unwittingly added a new verse to that summation: Residents are entitled to shoddy public schools, and all the social and economic woes that follow, when they're not willing to pay for anything more.
Daniels, now president of Purdue University, delivered this prophetic quote in 2009 while visiting Griffith public schools as governor:
"I see so much opportunity, but we shortchange ourselves when we have, for decades, a reputation for terrible government, abusing taxpayers," Daniels said. "I believe in home rule, and you are entitled to all the lousy, crummy graft-ridden government you are prepared to pay for. But if you are ready to do better and believe in this state like I do, a good starting point would be to take some of the steps ... recommended."
The sentiment of Daniels' quote applies to more than a perennial batch of Region leaders ushered into office by voters only to be convicted of crimes against the taxpayer.
A version of what he said also applies to Northwest Indiana voters who've nixed recent public school referendums — saying no to crucial funding for their schools to remain competitive, or in some cases just to keep the lights on.
The most recent example came in the primary election earlier this month at the hands of Hanover Community School Corp. voters.
Voters narrowly rejected the referendum during the May 7 primary election.
But what were they voting against, and do they even realize it?
Hanover officials sought a $44 million construction referendum to help fund an expansion to accommodate increasing enrollment in the growing Cedar Lake-based district. The measure failed by just 68 votes, with 51.56% voting against and 48.44% in favor.
The population within the Hanover school district is growing — and the tax base along with it. That's good for everyone there.
But it won't be for long if residents aren't willing to invest in quality schools, which attract and retain population and feed a brighter future for all of us.
The school district anticipates an imminent 250- to 300-student rise in enrollment.
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Hanover enrollment growth has been on a steady rise for years in one of the fastest-growing areas in the state, seeing a rise of more than 250 students since the 2014-15 school year, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.
And this growth is expected to continue. More than 1,000 new homes are expected to be built in Hanover Township’s boundaries in the coming year, Hanover Director of Business Services Adam Minth said in an April community meeting.
The district already consolidated its fifth-grade classes into Hanover Central Middle School as a result of the growth.
Now, it could see the placement of mobile classroom units, or trailers, reminiscent of those used in the Lake Central School Corp. after its failed 2009 referendum.
Portable outdoor toilets to supplement existing indoor plumbing also are on the table.
By a thin margin, Hanover voters opted against investing in a school district and the future of youth living within district boundaries.
They also voted against a school district that already has been proving itself a sound investment.
Hanover schools, which serve Cedar Lake and portions of St. John and Crown Point, are growing in more ways than population.
Hanover boasts a stellar 94.9% graduation rate, exceeding the state average of 88.1%.
The Hanover Central High School graduation rate is up more than 5% since 2011, so the standards continue rising there.
In return, a slight majority of voters said no to important school funding.
Under Indiana law, the defeated referendum means Hanover will not be allowed to seek another substantially similar referendum for 700 days following the May 7 vote. That is, unless the district can secure 500 property owners’ or 5% of its constituents’ support in a petition submitted to the county auditor. Then the district will only have to wait a year to take another run at it.
Let's hope they can do so and that enough voters wake up and realize quality schools require investment.