Chesterton Tribune

Duneland School Board sets 22cent tax referendum for May 8 primary

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Voters in the geographical boundaries of the Duneland School District will decide whether or not they want to increase the local property tax rate by 22 cents in the May 8 primary to prevent further cuts to school budgets.

All five board members said yes to Duneland School Superintendent Dirk Baer’s heartfelt recommendation on Monday for the 22-cent referendum option which would bring the tax rate in line with the state’s average school tax rate of 1.118.

“You don’t have to look too far east or west to find a declining school corporation and that’s what we’ve got here in Duneland,” said Baer, who put the blame on state lawmakers for many of the problems.

The state in 2008 changed the way schools are able to collect money in their general funds which included constituents seeing reductions in their property taxes, where much of the education money was drawn from. Now the state has a funding formula for each school district using an increase in the state sales tax rate.

While Duneland has worked toward fiscal responsibility after the changes, the results equal a total of 17 fewer teachers as well as “programming changes” and shifts in class size, Baer said. The cuts also eliminated 61 coaching and athletic positions in the middle and high school levels.

Baer, who said he “lives for (the) school district,” asked the community once more for “generous consideration” of stepping forward and supporting the schools to help administrators continue providing a high quality of dedicated teachers and programs for students.

“What we’re looking at is a community of pride, not a community of entitlement,” said Baer.

If the referendum for a maximum taxation of 22 cents per every $100 in assessed value over the next seven years passed, the median value on a home in Duneland, $178,800, with standard homestead and mortgage reductions would pay approximately $185 annually or $15.39 per month.

Baer said with the school district being able to pay off its debts, the tax rate can actually be lowered to 19 cents for the first four years starting in 2013 and then moved to 10 cents in 2017 through 2019 when another bond expires. An average home in 2017 could be paying $84 per year, $7 per month.

If no action is taken, Duneland could see the debt build up to $40 million by 2019.

“The question is not ‘What is the price for education?’ We really need to ask, ‘What cost if we don’t have an adequate education?’” said Baer.

Public Support

Before the board gave their thoughts to nearly 50 community members in attendance, two audience members offered their opinions, former Duneland school principal Dan Keilman and Chesterton businessman Jim Jeselnick.

Keilman said he has been amazed at Duneland’s accomplishments and its “pursuit of excellence” since he first came to the district in 1969. He gave his interpretation of what some have referred to as “the Duneland Difference”-- a school system having “committed administrators, board members, teachers, students and parents.”

“It’s what makes the Duneland community. We have to keep it,” he said. “I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”

Jeselnick followed up by saying he was not happy when he initially learned of the tax referendum but subsequently supported the effort seeing the possible tax hike is “not a cost for our community, but an investment for our community.” He praised the school for having the ability to offer programs such as the arts and show choir which helped his children excel when they were in school.

Jeselnick also asked school administrators to continue informing the public on the referendum matter up to the date of the election.

“It’s easy for rumors to float around about what’s going to happen and what’s not going to happen,” he said.

No comments were made in opposition of the referendum.

Board Says Children

Are Worth It

Making the motion to approve the referendum, board member Michael Trout was the first of the five members to reflect on the impact the schools have made.

Trout said education has been the “bedrock” of the community and the community has always returned the support.

A business owner, Trout sympathized with those whose taxes would be impacted by the referendum but asked the community to realize the board’s wishes are to collect a fraction back of what taxpayers have already saved.

Fellow board member Ron Stone highlighted programs of the school where students have recently gained recognition like the Chesterton High School Speech and Debate team’s victory in the state championship this weekend. “I’m going to be here to the end. I love this community,” said Stone.

Board Vice-president Nick Jurasevich said the issue is more than just a referendum but a chance to see excellence continue and preserve the quality of community in Duneland.

“If the referendum passes, the community wins. Not only today, not only tomorrow but for years to come,” he said.

A former teacher, board member Ralph Ayres fought back tears thinking back to his days as an elementary student in Chesterton and his 34-year career teaching social studies here. He said with each passing year, the quality of a Duneland education has improved.

Having served as a state legislator, Ayres said there was an abrupt change after he left in 2006 and he sees the state’s recent measures with the “you can do more with less” attitude as continued attacks on education, both public and private.

Ayres encouraged the community to recognize the money going to education enhances the lives of all those in the community, whether it be children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews.

“I have faith in our voters to say our children are worth it, no matter what their ability is when they walk into the classroom,” Ayres said.

Board president Janice Custer, who taught in Duneland for 23 years, commented further on the performance of the students who have received recognition even on a national level. She said 55 percent of athletes are student scholars meaning, they have a GPA of more than 3.5.

Duneland Schools have also produced 160 national merit scholars over the last ten years, Baer added.

A testament to Duneland’s reputation, Custer said teachers have shown interest in coming to Duneland despite the fact salaries have been frozen since 2009.

What’s Next?

Assistant Superintendent Dave Pruis said the next step for the referendum will be for the board to notify the state’s Department of Local Government finance office who will then certify the measure with the county clerk’s office and the Porter County Election Board to be placed on the ballot.

Baer said anyone who may have concerns or questions may contact school administrators. A list of e-mails can be found on the schools website, www.duneland.k12.in.us. Baer’s e-mail is dirk.baer@duneland.k12.in.us

Baer said he has only gotten a handful of e-mails since last week’s two part input session with the public. Questions gathered will be answered in a FAQ page currently being developed on the school’s website.

Ayres said residents may speak with their NWI state lawmakers at a public forum hosted by the Indiana Retired Teachers’ Association on Feb. 25, 9:30 a.m., at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso.

Chances for Passing Referendum

As reported by the Chesterton Tribune, 31 other schools in Indiana between 2009 and 2011 have taken the referendum route through a provision in state legislation that allows voters to decide on enacting additional property taxes for school operating budgets. Fifteen of them were successful.

Voters in the Crown Point School District passed a referendum last year for an additional tax rate of 21 cents.

Meanwhile, officials of Valparaiso Community Schools are currently contemplating a voter referendum this year to restore funding shortfalls of more than $3 million.

 

 

Posted 2/14/2012