Town hall being held on Elkhart Community Schools funding referendum request

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT
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ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) - In 35 days, voters in Elkhart will be asked to decide the fate of a school funding referendum request.

With $122 million at stake—the first of a half dozen scheduled town hall meetings on the subject took place today.

Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Thalheimer said the district is on track to see one of the highest enrollments ever at the Elkhart Career Center this fall and a record number of high school students earning dual college credits—if the district can keep those programs running.

“If we could sustain it, we wouldn’t be asking for the money right now,” he said.

The district is asking property taxpayers for $15.25 million a year for eight years.

Two thirds of the money—more than $10 million per year would be used to increase employee salaries and reduce worker health insurance costs.

The Elkhart Community School District has lost 40-percent of certified staff in the past four years.

Exit interviews show the number one reason for leaving this year was COVID, otherwise, it has been the same ‘ole same ‘ole.

“Then its issues of salary, or hourly rate compensation rises to the top. So, they’re leaving to either go to the private sector or to another school district because they make more,” Thalheimer said.

Today’s virtual audience of Elkhart Chamber of Commerce members was perhaps uniquely qualified to understand such a human resources dilemma and the possible consequences of further belt tightening.

“So the question becomes, what programs do we cut. What do we get rid of and then that becomes a self-feeding death spiral. If we cut programs, if we lose teachers, and can’t replace programs, say at the career center or early college program, then that means we continue to bleed students,” Thalheimer said.

The superintendent wants to raise teacher salaries by at least $3,300 per year and give support staff a buck an hour boost.

Thalheimer says he has about 50-food service positions to be filled and dozens of para-professional slots.

The next town hall meeting on the subject starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night at Bristol Elementary School. It can also be viewed live online at the Stronger Elkhart PAC Facebook page.

Another town hall meeting is slated for Wednesday, March 31st at Pierre Moran Middle School.

The League of Women Voters will sponsor another town hall meeting on April 15th at St. James Church.

Elkhart High School East will host a forum on Thursday, April 22nd while a meeting will be held on April 29th at Elkhart High School West.

The school meetings will offer in-person attendance although masks are required, and guests will have to be socially distanced from people outside their immediate households.

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