Duneland School Corporation held the third event in a series of four
information sessions where the public is invited to discuss the proposed
renewal of Duneland’s supplemental property tax referendum.
In a change from
the first two sessions, more supporters of the supplemental tax rate were in
attendance--and they were vocal--often challenging those in the audience who
questioned the need for extra funding and Duneland’s fiscal responsibility.
The sessions have
each begun with a presentation on Duneland’s activities and accolades from
Interim Superintendent Judy Malasto and an explanation of how school funding
has changed since 2008.
In 2008, the
Indiana General Assembly passed legislation that ended local property tax
support for school general funds and dictated that student-related expenses,
such as teacher salaries and program costs, cannot be supported by local
property taxes unless voters in the school district approve a supplemental
property tax via referendum allowing the local schools to collect up to 22
cents per $100 of assessed valuation (AV). The referendum must be renewed
every seven years.
passed such a referendum in 2012, and must go to the polls on May 7 this
year to decide if it will be renewed.
with a home valued at the median $183,600, pay $15.97 per month, or $191.60
per year. If a home’s assessed valuation has not gone up, the rate will have
the same impact on a homeowner’s tax bill as it did last year.
Malasto asked those
in attendance Wednesday to write their questions on notecards and said open
discussion was also welcome.
The first notecard
question was, “How many jobs are funded by or connected to the referendum?”
Duneland Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz said the answer is
118--including teachers, aides, nurses and media specialists.
In another notecard
question, someone asked if local businesses, including large industry like
ArcelorMittal, pay the referendum tax. Kwilasz said all property owners in
Duneland pay, whether they own residential, commercial, rental, or farm
question pertained to tax exemptions. Kwilasz said homeowners are taxed on
their net AVs, and most homeowners qualify for the homestead and mortgage
estimate the impact of the referendum tax rate by entering their AVs and
selecting what exemptions they qualify for on the tax calculator under the
“Referendum” tab on Duneland’s website.
Greg Arthur, lead
pastor at Duneland Community Church, said he supports the referendum and
suggested the conversation isn’t about money as much as it is community.
“Our world is
defined by scarcity, there is never enough,” Arthur read, from a prepared
statement. “The answer for scarcity isn’t to retreat and withdraw from each
other, but to instead invest in each other. This referendum is our statement
as a community that we know it isn’t just about me, my life, and my needs.”
Cal Michael asked
why he’s being asked to support Duneland with extra funding while it lags
behind Valparaiso High School in Department of Education (DOE) measures like
Malasto and School
board member Kristin Kroeger acknowledged that Duneland is behind in some
respects, and Malasto said programs made possible in part by the referendum,
such as Project Lead the Way and new engineering classes at CHS, are aimed
at improving performance.
“We’re looking at
that information. Analyzing that data is clearly something we’re doing, and
we continue to do that to see how we can improve,” Malasto added.
Libby Conway said
she emailed 14 questions to School Board President Brandon Kroft. Conway
said Kroft responded to her, but she wanted more clarification on the
Conway referred to
the per-student tuition support that Duneland gets from the State, which
increases every year based on enrollment. “If I’m picking up what you guys
are putting down, you need money. My concern is: how much? If you’re
expecting a raise, I want to understand that shortfall.”
Kwilasz said the
referendum tax levy was around $6.5 million last year, so that amount--close
to 10% of this year’s $69 million budget-- would be the shortfall. Duneland
is estimated to get $38 million in state support this year, which must be
split between student-facing costs and operations.
Conway wasn’t quite
satisfied with that, adding that it seems to her Duneland’s teachers aren’t
being paid well enough while construction on buildings continues every year.
“What we were told
in 2012 by Dr. Dirk Baer is our schools would shut down if we didn’t have a
referendum. If I look at performance, and I look at additions to buildings,
and payment, this does not ring true to me,” Conway said.
Joe Quartuch, a
retired math teacher of 40 years, took aim at complaints about the tax,
saying he’s one retiree who gladly pays it.
“When I was driving
in this morning, I noticed that the cost of gasoline was up 22 cents,”
Quartuch said. “I got a letter in the mail that my supplemental medical for
Medicare went up $16 per month for I and my wife.”
“I’d gladly pay the
amount to Duneland. We get more bang for our buck there than we do with the
gasoline or the Medicare,” said Quartuch.
Colleen and Sal
Lovinello had the perspective that Duneland just wants to maintain the
status quo. Sal Lovinello said those wondering what would change without the
referendum should look to schools like Crown Point, who have lost their
supplemental property tax levies and cut programs.
“I am a product of
the Chicago public education system, and they didn’t have half the education
we have when they spend more per student,” Sal Lonvinello added.
agreed with Quartuch. “I would gladly give more taxes.”
John Vereb, who was
critical of the proposed tax throughout the session, countered that its
dedicated teachers, involved parents, and kids willing to learn that
determine performance--not dollars.
to a notecard question: “What happens if this doesn’t pass?”
“I’m an optimistic
person. I’m a very positive person, and the thought of trying to choose
which programs, which individuals, and which support services in our school
corporation will have to go away is overwhelming to me,” Malasto said.
Duneland offers something for every kid, with its variety of athletic and
arts options and its partnerships with local entities, but that will have to
change if the referendum doesn’t pass.
“We find a path for
every student, and those are supplemental programs, and if this doesn’t
pass, they will go away. We’ll have to make those decisions about what can
Someone also asked
if class sizes might increase. Malasto said they could. “Everything is on
the table. There is nothing that is not.”
Vereb pointed out
that voter turnout is likely to be higher in November. Vereb said it was
“shameful” of the administration not to admit that they think a low turnout
will help their case.
What if the vote
was in November? Kwilasz responded that Duneland’s budget is due Nov. 1.
Though the referendum vote can be after the cutoff, she reiterated that 118
people are in the balance.
“I don’t think we’d
want to have to tell those people that we don’t know if they can work here
next year. That’s disingenuous to people, waiting until the last minute,”
CHS history teacher
Bob DeRuntz said it’s up to the voters. “Be it November 5 or May 7, a
community member still has to get up off the couch and go cast a ballot, or
they can vote early. They have a month for that,” DeRuntz said.
“There is almost
nothing stopping people in the community from voting.”