School officials preview Elkhart County referenda

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The May 6, 2014 primary is a week away and two school districts in Elkhart County have make-it-or-break-it items on the ballot.

Both Elkhart Community Schools (ECS) and Concord Community Schools have referenda on the ballot. The districts blame property tax caps put in place several years ago for their multi-million dollar shortfalls.

“We’ve made changes in how we operate, the two mile walk zones is a product of how we’ve dealt with the tax caps. We’ve reduced staff, probably 50 employees since 2008,” said Dr. Rob Haworth, superintendent of ECS.

In fall 2013, ECS brought in a focus group to take a look at the district’s finances and determine where cuts should be made and what should be funded.

ECS’ has two referenda on the ballot, one of which would fund transportation and operational costs, and a second that would fund safety updates and building repairs. Indiana law allows ECS’ school board to ask for the referendum to replace lost property tax revenue because of circuit breaker tax cap credits.

According to school officials, if both items pass, then taxpayers would see an increased rate of roughly 18 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The school levy ballot item is for $4,000,000 to help fill the gap in lost funds for debt services, capital projects such as maintenance and technology, transportation, bus replacement and walk zones.

The construction project referendum would fund $19,030,000 in maintenance needs, according to Yes4Elkhart.

Neither referenda includes repair or replacement of the decades old swimming pools, once it became apparent that voters might not support the referenda if the pools were included, school officials removed that from consideration.

If the referenda don’t pass, Haworth said ECS will have to start “patching” things, ending programs and maintain the two-mile walk zones. He believes that in the long-run the short falls will deter families from moving to the district.

Concord’s referendum is for a seven year stint, primarily to regain the losses from the tax cap law.

According to Concord superintendent, Wayne Stubbs, the additional revenue would go towards things like transportation, bus replacement, capital projects and bet service funds.

“The school system is the center of the community, we don’t have a city,” said Stubbs, “people rally around this school system.”

A “yes” vote for Concord’s referendum translates to roughly 40 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

If the measure doesn’t pass, Stubbs said the district would have to start reducing the number of positions at the schools.

“We’re projected to lose 4.2 million in 2014, that’s a lot of people,” Stubbs explained. Concord has already made a number of staffing reductions since the recession hit, subsequently increasing the average class size to “unacceptable” numbers.

Both ECS and Concord’s referendum have been endorsed by the city of Elkhart’s chamber of commerce. Chamber president, Kyle Hannon, explained that after careful review the chamber’s board determined that what is best for the local schools is ultimately good for the businesses.

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