Five members of the
public pushed back on Thursday afternoon at the second of four information
sessions being held by the Duneland School Corporation to answer questions
about the property-tax referendum on the ballot of the municipal primary
election on Tuesday, May 7.
included the impact of the referendum on seniors with fixed incomes and on
parents already paying hefty fees associated with athletics and
extracurriculars; the accountability of the current referendum revenues; the
transparency of the Duneland School Board; and the timing of the referendum
Superintendent Judy Malasto opened the session with an overview of the
Duneland School Corporation, its numerous achievements and accolades, its
multiple partnerships with not-for-profits and community organizations, its
high academic quality, and the long list of state and national championships
won by its athletic and extracurricular teams.
Officer Lynn Kwilasz then spoke about the efforts made by the corporation to
use tax dollars wisely: through the use, for example, of cooperative and
qualified purchasing; the refinancing and retirement of pension debt; and
the upgrading of lighting and building control systems for efficiency’s
discussed the history of state educational funding, how--specifically--until
2008 there existed a “quasi-balance” between state tuition support and
property-tax revenues, at which time the state became the sole funder of
school general funds to the exclusion of property taxes, which in turn were
dedicated to maintenance, transportation, equipment, furniture, utilities,
and the like.
A shortfall was
thus created, which the property-tax referendum of 2012 succeeded mostly in
closing, at an additional rate of 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
That additional rate expires at the end of this year. As Kwilasz emphasized,
the proposed referendum on the May 7 ballot would not establish a new tax
rate but would simply continue the present rate for another seven years.
The owner of a home
with a median value in Duneland--$183,600--would pay the same additional
$15.97 per month, and the same $191.60 per year, which he or she has been
paying, Kwilasz said. “So if the assessed valuation of your home hasn’t
changed then your impact will be unchanged.”
one woman in the audience--who declined to identify herself--AVs are not
staying the same. They’re rising. “My elderly neighbors’ assessments are
skyrocketing,” the woman said, then added that she’s personally acquainted
with seniors who have spent $1,500 in appraiser’s fees just to appeal their
“I know this
doesn’t look like much,” the woman said, “but they can’t afford to pay for
emission testing for new license plates. They’re going without cars, basic
cable, because their property taxes are killing them. I mean, I’m a bleeding
heart but I’m concerned. Children are great but seniors on fixed incomes
live in the community too.”
certainly isn’t lost on us,” Malasto said.
“These are the
weakest people in our community,” the woman continued.
Good schools are a
main draw to this community, Malasto replied. If schools deteriorate because
of budget shortfalls, “then everything falls apart. We understand, we’re
asking for a sacrifice.”
“It looks like
you’re saying we should just tighten our belts,” the woman responded. “I
think that’s disingenuous.”
Speaking on behalf
of seniors in Duneland was Mike Delliquardi. “I’m one of the seniors you’re
talking about,” he told the woman. “There are problems with assessments. But
this isn’t about solving those problems. This is about asking what the value
of the referendum is. The biggest value is that our kids get educated well.
Communities with excellent public schools have less crime and vandalism,
better jobs, better healthcare options.”
“I don’t care if
you have a kid in the school system or not,” Delliquardi added. “This tax
increase to me is a good value.”
Beth Mehling wanted
to know exactly how referendum funds “are actually allocated.”
“Is it just a big
pot of money?” Mehling asked. “Is there a system for spending it?”
that the corporation is “examining ways to analyze efficiencies, outcomes,
and resources,” so that referendum revenues can best be directed to where
they’re needed most.
“So will there be a
method of applying referendum funds going forward?” Mehling pressed.
“Like a committee
from the public?” a man from the audience chimed in.
“Those are details
I would like to start providing,” Malasto acknowledged. “We talk about this
at school board meetings but you can’t put four pages of how referendum
money is being spent in the newspaper. We need to do a better job of
For John Doyle the
basic issue appears to be one of trust in the administration and the
Duneland School Board. His opening shot, pointing to Assistant
Superintendent Monte Moffett, whose contract was not renewed: “And you fire
this man? Monte gets fired for being a great guy. I’ve got some legitimate
questions and no one wants to answer them.”
“Why,” Doyle wanted
to know, “are students leaving the district for the charter school? Why are
they leaving the schools? Is there a trust problem with the School Board. I
don’t know. Why don’t you guys work with the public? What are you spending
our money on?”
co-president of the Duneland Teachers Association, fielded this one. “It’s
going to affect children, classrooms, teachers,” she said. “I pay the tax
too, because I believe in the system. I believe in this community. I’ve
lived in communities that don’t support their schools and you don’t want to
live in them.”
Fees on Top of Fees
the parent of a Duneland student, noted first that to his way of thinking
“it’s a little disconcerting” that only a few parents were in attendance at
Thursday’s information session. He also expressed the wish that “there were
an easier way to comment” on the referendum, “because you feel attacked when
delighted to say that the Duneland Schools are “a great system,” Richardson
pointed to the fact that the parents of kids in extracurriculars and
athletics are already paying fees through the nose. “I just spent $316 to
buy three different warm-ups for my daughter,” he said.
doesn’t need three warm-ups.”
All things being
equal, Richardson said, he “would easily give that money for the
referendum.” But all things aren’t equal. “Where do you have your gee-whiz
“We need to an
analysis of where those extras are,” Malasto allowed.
Don Payne, for his
part, wanted to know why the referendum has been put on the May 7 ballot.
“Why hold it on the primary?” he asked. “There’s a lot fewer voters.”
Steve Disney, a
parent of Duneland students and superintendent of the River Forest School
Corporation, took a shot at answering Payne. Scheduling the referendum for
the primary election would allow the Duneland School Board to begin its
budgeting in the summer for the calendar year 2020, he said. “It’s the most
efficient way to do it.”
Payne wasn’t buying
that. The Duneland School Board could have put the referendum on the general
election ballot--when many more voters will show up for the polls--and in
the meantime estimate the likely revenues of a renewed 22-cent additional
“The reason I think
it’s in the primary is because it’s to your advantage,” Payne said. “Public
records for the primary show who voted and you can target those people.”
that the rationale for holding the referendum in the primary is legitimate.
“It’s not a shady reason,” she said.
The last two
information sessions will be held as follows:
--2 p.m. Wednesday,
April 3, Baugher Center, 100 W. Indiana Ave. in Chesterton.
--7 p.m. Tuesday,
April 23, Liberty Intermediate Media Center.