May 6, 2014 voters said “yes” to two proposed referendums aimed at funding improvements at Elkhart Community Schools (ECS).
The first referendum measure, the “school levy,” assists transportation and operation costs. The second, listed as a “construction project,” addresses district-wide security upgrades and building maintenance.
The ECS website explains that the total of both referenda equals a tax rate of $0.186 per $100 assessed value, or a monthly cost of $6.18 for a home valued at $110,000.
But what exactly falls under the categories of a “school levy” or a “construction project?”
According to ECS Superintendent, Dr. Robert Haworth, the referenda cover a lot of projects.
“Schools all over the nation are getting ready or have already started, and for those schools safety is their number one priority,” explained Haworth, “For Elkhart Community schools it’s no different: Safety is our number one priority.”
In 2013 ECS had an outside firm conduct an audit of the district’s elementary and secondary schools. That audit revealed several security deficiencies that were going unaddressed due to budget shortfalls.
“School safety is what sold it [the referendum] to our community,” said Haworth.
Work started this summer on several projects to improve safety. Friday, August 8, crews finished enclosing the cafeteria at Memorial High School.
“If we go into a lockdown situation and our children are eating at that time, we were unable to lock this cafeteria down,” Haworth explained.
Districts nationwide fear becoming the next Columbine and unfortunately, said Haworth, open-concept classrooms constructed decades ago are not the safest in an emergency lockdown situation.
ECS will begin work to enclose several open-concept classrooms at Pinewood and Woodland Elementary Schools in November, with a completion date scheduled for some time in the spring of 2015.
Entrances to Pinewood, West Wide, Woodland, Beardsley, Memorial and Tipton Street will be reconstructed to improve safety. The idea behind the projects is to force all visitors to go directly through the main office and eliminate the chance of someone accessing the school hallways.
“Times changes, priorities change, when we turn on the news at night it’s not uncommon to hear of students, or factory workers, or libraries, or post offices coming under some tough situations. Schools are no different. I don’t know if we heard those types of stories when we turned our evening news on 30 years ago or 40 years ago when those open concept classrooms were being built,” said Haworth.
In addition to building new walls for safety purposes, new “Columbine” locks will gradually be added to every classroom in the district. During an emergency lockdown teachers will be able to lock their classroom door from the inside with a key instead of stepping into a hallway or corridor to do so.
Locks have already been changed at Beck and Eastwood elementary schools. ECS’s building supervisor, Tony Gianesi, said they have been delayed in getting all the safety locks but will install them as they come in.
SAFETY AND SECURITY PRIORITIES: $10,037,000
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PRIORITIES: $7,455,000