Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Duneland reacts to bill allowing schools to share referendum funds with charters

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By LILY REX

Members of the Duneland Schools community are disappointed by the passage of an Indiana House of Representatives bill that was amended in the Senate Monday to allow public school boards to share funds from supplemental property tax referenda with charter schools in their districts.

Proponents of the provision say a supplemental property tax referendum could stand a better chance in a community where parents of local charter school students feel they have skin in the game when it comes time to vote. Those against the provision say it’s a slippery slope to legislators mandating the sharing of supplemental funds--funds which public schools only need following a pattern of the Legislature diverting funding from public to private education.

The provision manifested Monday as Amendment #6 to HB 1065, a vehicle bill proposing adjustments to a wide array of tax matters. HB 1065 was returned to the House with eight amendments Wednesday after it passed the Senate 31-19 Tuesday. The senate tied 25-25 when it voted on Amendment #6 Monday, leaving Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch to break the tie in favor.

“We are disappointed in our local legislators who supported this bill and voted for it without contacting their local school districts to find out what its impact would be,” said Duneland School Board President Brandon Kroft. Kroft said he was not aware of any attempts by local legislators to discuss HB 1065’s potential impact with Duneland Schools.

Duneland’s three state representatives voted along party lines when HB 1065 passed third reading in the House on Jan. 30, long before Amendment #6 was added. Democrats Chuck Moseley (D-Portage) and Pat Boy (D-Michigan City) opposed it, and Republican Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) voted for it.

State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) voted for Amendment #6 Monday, but against the bill as a whole on Tuesday. Tallian now says her Monday vote, which could have defeated the amendment had it swung the other way, was a mistake.

““I made a mistake. For 15 sessions in the General Assembly, I have taken pride in studying and understanding the implications and impact of legislation that comes across my desk, especially on the most controversial issues. This time, I missed,” Tallian said in a statement posted to the Indiana Senate Democrats website and reshared on her official Facebook page yesterday.

Tallian further said Amendment #6 came to the senators for the first time Monday in a “six-inch stack of paper that included about 50 bills with multiple amendments”, and she made her vote based on discussion on the Senate floor. “I heard what I believed to be a harmless measure providing that school boards may, but are not required [emphasis from source], to give some portion of referenda funds to a charter,” the statement reads.

“In the 24 hours since this vote, I have heard from my constituents and public education supporters about the depth of their opposition to this amendment and their reasons why. Had I realized all of this, I would have voted no,” Tallian said in the statement. “I have always opposed the expansion of charter and voucher schools. I have stood with teachers and avidly supported public education for 15 years. I will continue to do that.”

Tallian’s puzzling vote comes after she just proposed an amendment to education vehicle bill HB 1066, that was subsequently approved 42-8. Tallian’s amendment to HB 1066 was to hold virtual schools to the same standard of anti-nepotism that public schools are held to, following a recent scandal where the State Board of Accounts called on two Indiana virtual schools to reimburse the State for approximately $86 million in misspent state funds. In its current version, HB 1065 would prohibit public schools from sharing referendum funds with virtual schools.

Kroft further said the School Board shares in concerns that Amendment #6 to HB 1065 is step one toward making the sharing of referendum funds mandatory, and that legislators should allow charter schools to seek their own referenda if charter school funding is a true concern. Additional Duneland School Board members Alayna Lightfoot Pol and John Marshall were not available for comment at deadline today.

“People are justifiably outraged by the language that was stuck into HB 1065,” said Chesterton High School History teacher and Chairman of Negotiations for the Duneland Teacher’s Association, Bob DeRuntz.

“Our community did not pass our local referendum to have that money taken away and given to the Discovery Charter School,” DeRuntz said. “Our community passed the referendum to support the Duneland Schools because too much of our public tax dollars are already being diverted from public education to pay for private, charter, and virtual school vouchers.”

Prior to 2008, local property taxes supported public school general funds by default. State statute regarding school funding changed that year when the Indiana Legislature ruled that public school general funds would be funded exclusively from state tuition support on a per student basis. When the funding formula changed, statute was also changed to allow schools to collect a supplemental property tax rate of up to 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation (AV) upon the passage of a referendum. Such referenda must be renewed every seven years.

Duneland Schools first sought a referendum in 2012, and it passed by a slim margin, but Duneland voters overwhelmingly reupped the referendum in the 2019 primary election. The supplemental tax costs the average Duneland homeowner about $16 a month, based on the average net AV of homes in Duneland.

Duneland Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Pettit, for his part, said Duneland wouldn’t share its referendum funds if the provision becomes law. “I can’t think of any reason why we would ever ask our community to support a referendum, and then turn around and give the money to a charter school. That’s a bait and switch,” he said.

 

Posted 3/6/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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