It wasn’t the
win school officials were hoping for, but Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer
said Tuesday’s razor-thin voter approval of Duneland’s tax referendum is
still significant, for it will keep programs intact and minimize anticipated
“This is very
much an investment in the future vote, in my mind,” Baer said this morning.
Duneland School voters joined those in the Oregon Davis and Zionsville
school districts in approving property tax hikes to shore up their school
general funds that have been decimated by state funding cuts.
Six other school
corporations also held separate tax referenda for school construction
projects; Baer said it is believed that all but one of those also passed.
Baer said the
success of Tuedsay’s school referenda could be a sign that the public is
starting to realize that school funding problems are the direct result of
state education policies.
The end result
could be a wake-up call for state legislators to address school funding
issues, as well as prompt other struggling schools to turn to their local
property taxpayers for help.
“You might start
seeing more of these coming this fall or next spring,” Baer said.
the referendum approval means that property taxpayers will see an additional
school tax rate of up to 22 cents on their tax bills for the next seven
years, beginning in 2013. How much the tax will raise will depend largely on
the local assessed value, but it is roughly estimated it will generate $5.6
million a year.
tax won’t solve all of Duneland’s funding woes, Baer said. For one thing,
because the additional revenues won’t be available until next year, Duneland
will continue to have a “tight, tight budget” this year. School officials
will continue to be vigilant in cutting costs, he said.
At the same
time, the tax referendum approval will plug a growing budget shortfall and
curb anticipated additional cuts. Duneland already gave notice to 18
teachers -- mainly those in the elementary fine art and media programs --
that their positions are expected to be eliminated. Two of the positions are
currently held by teachers who are retiring, and those two will likely
remain unfilled. But with the referendum approval, the pressure to cut the
other slots has been lifted, and the intent is to keep the 16 remaining
teachers on board, Baer said.
“We won’t see
the massive layoffs we would have seen otherwise,” he said.
referenda in Duneland and the other school systems stem from a 2008 state
law that significantly altered school funding in Indiana. The state “took
over” funding of school general funds, paying for it in part by increasing
the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent. But within a year of the school
funding takeover, the state announced nearly $300 million in additional
funding cuts to schools. The 2008 state law also gave schools the option of
turning to local voters for additional property tax funds.
shortfall at the start of this year exceeded $1 million, and its general
fund totals about $8 million less than five years ago. Without an additional
funding source, Duneland’s shortfall was projected to rise to $8.4 million
within seven years.
Of the three
operating fund referenda on the ballot Tuesday, Duneland’s tax hike was
comparable to the other two. Zionsville’s additional tax rate will be up to
24 cents while Oregon Davis’ will be up to 19 cents.
result was the closest, passing by a 51 to 49 percent margin, or 4,093 to
3,940. Oregon Davis’ referendum passed comfortably, 699-383, while
Zionsville’s was closer, 3,954 to 3,259.
Baer said he
would have liked to see a larger margin in support of the referendum. But he
acknowledged that Duneland was up against a few big obstacles. In addition
to a continued tough economy, he said the hotly contested U.S. Senate
Republican race between veteran Richard Lugar and Tea Party-backed Richard
Mourdock may have brought out many more voters than usual who are not
particularly sympathetic to tax hikes for schools.
Baer also said
that last year’s decision to replace the Chesterton High School football
field with artificial turf continues to be a sore spot with many voters. He
said that even though Duneland tried to get the message out that the funds
for the turf are separate from the school operating funds, it was impossible
to convince everyone.
close margin, Baer said he is still pleased that the majority of voters came
out in support of the referendum.
“I still think
it’s a victory for the kids of the Duneland School Corporation,” he said.