The Duneland School
Corporation hosted the final event in its series of four information
sessions on the supplemental property tax referendum last night.
Over 100 people
were in attendance. The event had to be moved from the Liberty Intermediate
Media Center to the gym to accommodate everyone.
More than pushing
back, attendees last night tended to be concerned about why things are the
way they are with school funding, and what the appropriate response is.
The event began as
the past three info sessions have--with Interim Superintendent Judy Malasto
and Duneland CFO Lynn Kwilasz giving a presentation on Duneland’s accolades
and accomplishments followed by an explanation of how state funding for
education has changed over the past decade, creating the need for a
referendum in many school systems.
that Duneland is always trying to use taxpayer dollars wisely to do the best
it can for students.
“We’re not just
asking for assistance without making sure we do everything we can to find
money from other places,” Malasto said, noting that Duneland takes advantage
of grants whenever possible.
“The reason why
we’re here is for our students, they’re the center of all this,” Malasto
Duneland is seeking
continuation of the supplemental property tax rate of 22 cents per $100 of
assessed valuation that Duneland voters approved in 2012. Per state law, the
supplemental property tax rate must be reapproved by voters via referendum
every seven years.
tax costs the average Duneland homeowner about $16 a month, based on the
average assessed value of homes in Duneland.
Note Card Questions
First off, the
crowd was given notecards and asked to write down their questions so
everyone would have a chance to be heard. Malasto said she would address all
notecard questions first, then open the floor for discussion.
The first notecard
question asked what cuts would be made in Duneland if the referendum does
Malasto said there
is no working list of what programs will go away upon a failure of the
referendum because no one wants to make those choices if they don’t have to.
Malasto said the
question was hard because Duneland has something for every kid, and she
doesn’t want to see anything go. “Everything is on the table,” she said.
“The idea of having to go through and decide which kid’s thing has to go--it
was whether the Board considered seeking a lower rate. Malasto said it’s
been on the table, but the Board’s financial consultant, Umbaugh, advised
against lowering the rate because the gap between Duneland’s expected state
funding and future operating costs is projected to be too large.
Someone wrote in
asking if all the referendum funds collected thus far have been spent.
Kwilasz said about $4 million, or two-thirds of one year’s referendum tax
levy, is left over because the Board wanted to have a reserve in case of
shortfalls in other funds.
wrote in asking why her daughter’s kindergarten class is 28 kids when
Duneland parents were promised smaller class sizes as part of the first
Malasto said less
than ideal class sizes have been an “unintended consequence of enrollment”
and the Administration is working on determining the ideal class sizes at
Duneland, adding that she’d like to form a parent advisory group to make
sure people in the community are heard on those issues.
Malasto gave the
floor to Duneland parent Jen Matuska, who wrote on her notecard that she
wanted to address the room about the quality of Duneland Schools.
Matuska said the
staff and programs at Duneland have been instrumental to her kids.
“I can’t stand that
my kids won’t have those opportunities for something that I haven’t even
noticed [on] my taxes in the whole time that I’ve lived here,” Matuska said.
“I have had a kindergarten teacher hold my hand while we got a diagnosis on
my daughter. I had teachers who helped me become a better mom because of
Matuska said her
son has opened up especially because of programs offered at Westchester
Intermediate. “He’s found his voice in robotics and orchestra and in so many
things that I just can’t even fathom won’t be there sometime.”
“I will gladly
check yes because I’ve got kids who, personally, academically, it’s all on
the line. I can’t imagine those things not being there for them, or for any
was Don Payne, who questioned the Board’s motives for holding the referendum
in a municipal primary election at the second referendum info session.
Payne brought some
numbers this time. He said general elections tend to have a 33 percent
“A lot of people
don’t like to vote in the primary and I’m one of them,” Payne said, noting
that Indiana voters must select a party affiliation to vote in primaries.
“I’m gonna vote no,
but it’s not because I don’t support the schools or the students. It’s
because I don’t want it added to my taxes,” Payne said.
statements at previous info sessions, said the decision was made to seek the
referendum in May so the Board has ample time to budget for next year. She
reminded the audience that over 100 jobs are funded from the referendum.
questioned whether the referendum is actually a permanent tax, citing former
Superintendent Dirk Baer, who framed it as temporary and even promised to
lower the rate to 19 cents and 10 cents over the course of the first seven
Michael said, “the
new normal seems to be to spend to the state provided and referendum’s
fiscal limits,” adding that no one wants to vote against education, but he
questions the adults involved.
Another member of
the audience agreed with Michael, saying he didn’t buy that the competent
people at Duneland can’t budget based only on state support.
Malasto said Baer
was reacting to something unexpected, and he couldn’t have predicted the
future after the drastic cuts in school funding in 2008.
“Everyone was in
shock when it happened. All the school corporations assumed that this was
going to right itself.”
another notecard question to address all three concerns. The question, on
state school funding, was: how can we address the laws?
Malasto said the
adults downstate need to be questioned as well. “We do need to work
together. We do need to write our legislators. This is a legislator problem.
We just deal with it and try to provide the best we can for our students,”
Teacher’s Association has been making its voice heard downstate, Malasto
said, but more people need to sound off to the General Assembly.
“We didn’t create
the problem. But we’re responsible for the solution, and our kids are the
ones that suffer,” said Malasto. “This is what we need for our kids right
comments, CHS history teacher Bob DeRuntz said funding isn’t just an issue
in Duneland. 84 percent of school corporations in Indiana have sought a
referendum and more than half have passed it. School Board member Alayna
Lightfoot Pol also commented that Indiana is trying to fund three different
models of education: traditional public schools, charter schools, and a
Mike Fetla, for his
part, questioned how legislators will be motivated to change school funding
if taxpayers keep shouldering the burden through referendums. Malasto said
sending a message by short-changing students “is not a risk I’m willing to
took aim at answering Fetla and Michael. Keith Houghteling, a Chesterton
resident who teaches in Illinois, said some Illinois schools are examples of
why Duneland needs the referendum.
the programs at Duneland are “rich” and “beautiful,” but his school is
suffering from being run on a shoestring budget like a business. “We have a
beautiful library but no librarian. We have class sizes up to 37.”
Last was Bob
Filipek, a former candidate for School Board. Filipek noted that Lake Ridge
Schools in Lake County has recently announced major cuts due to the failure
of its referendum.
“They’re closing an
elementary school and laying off like 120 staff. That’s a reality we’re
talking about,” Filipek said.
Filipek said it’s
hard to hire quality teachers at current salary levels--even without asking
them to take on large classes like Houghteling has seen. “How’s the quality
of education when you’re trying to teach 37 kids and when you’re teaching 20
“As a resident, I
don’t want to see the school not pass the referendum and have to make cuts
because its gonna affect the community as a whole,” Filipek said. “At the
same time, do we want to send a message about this at the state level? Yes