Failed referendum leaves Argos Community Schools concerned over future

Published: May. 4, 2016 at 6:42 PM EDT
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A referendum for Argos Community Schools failed Tuesday night by a vote of 753 to 534, leaving the school concerned about its future.

"The referendum not passing is quite a disappointment for all of us," Argos Superintendent of schools Michele Riise said.

The referendum could mean job cuts, extra-curricular programs and even supplies could be cut. However, they're still trying to figure it all out. Wednesday, the school was left to pick up the pieces from the failed referendum and now they have to figure out what to cut next under the same financial means they've been struggling with for the last few years.

"I'm very disappointed today," Riise said. "I need to look to the future and look to what's going to be best for Argos Schools and our kids because they deserve the best."

The referendum was asking for a property tax increase of no more than 61 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. So a $100,000 home would have paid $218 more per year. However, farmland was a bit higher. Farmland with the same valuation, would see an increase of $610 in property taxes a year.

"I understand the burden they would have had to carry with the property taxes and the school board and I respect that," Riise said. "We have to figure out an alternative."

Now the school wasn't asking for money for new athletic apparel or a renovated gym. The school says the things they were asking for are necessities to make Argos a competitive school district in the area and be one of the best schools in Northern Indiana. If it passed, the referendum would have helped add to their already growing agriculture program, more teachers for vocational and internship based programs and even more technology. All of which the school views as needs, not wants. However now, they will have to go without and make even more cuts.

"We're very lean," Riise said. "We've already trimmed the fat. There's nothing else to trim. We don't know what the future is going to hold. I don't want to get to a point where we keep cutting programs and staff and we don't have what our students are needing to be productive out there. Ultimately, they're going to be our productive citizens in the future and we want to give them the tools and skills needed to be that.'

Because of a decrease in attendance over the last eight years, the school has lost funding and in turn, needs to put up advertisements to draw students in. It's something which could boost that funding if enrollment numbers go up.

"Argos schools is a great school and we want to keep it alive and keep it growing," Riise said. "We have to figure out what the best way is to do so."

This is personal for Riise. She has a daughter in the school system and she is already spreading herself thin. She's the superintendent of schools but also works as the principal of the Elementary school and has taught classes in the past. Her situation could become the reality for many other faculty members as the school will try to do more with less.

"You always feel responsible," Riise said about the referendum failing. "This is my life. This is my school. We're one big family. My child goes here so yes it is personal."

Riise says they will figure out what cuts need to be made between May 1 and June 1 but they will not be drafting a new referendum for the fall.