Hebron schools will ask voters to raise taxes
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 27, 2013 11:18PM
Construction of the new Hebron High School as seen in this file photo from 2004. | File~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:52AM
HEBRON — The School Board here is the latest to decide to put a referendum on the ballot, letting voters decide whether to pay higher taxes to preserve teaching positions and school programming.
The board, for the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township, voted 5-0 last week for the referendum. If the ballot passes muster with voters in May, the township’s voters will pay an additional 23 cents per $100 assessed valuation for seven years, starting in June 2014.
“We just feel that we don’t want to let the students down. These kids are our future,” board president David Molchan said. “We’re kind of against the wall with what the state has done to us, and every district in the state.”
The measure would generate $530,000 a year for the district’s general operating fund — about enough to fund 10 teaching positions, according to Superintendent George Letz — and would cost someone with a $144,600 house an additional $12.03 a month in taxes.
The Union Township schools in Wheeler also will have a referendum in May. A similar measure in the Duneland schools, in Chesterton, passed by a slim margin last year, and Lake County school corporations have been through similar paces.
The board has been talking about a referendum for six months, said board member Peter Blank, who also owns commercial property in town.
“We’re to the point where we’ve got two choices, and it’s only fair to let the voters decide,” he said, adding the board didn’t want to unilaterally cut programs. “The township voters have a choice. They can either approve the referendum and keep what we have, or we cannot pass the referendum and we can start gutting the programs.”
The Hebron schools have cut spending for eight years, Letz said, but that hasn’t been enough to stay ahead of funding cuts from the state.
The school district’s general fund, distributed by the state, has dropped from a little over $7 million in 2007 to less than $6.3 million last year. And in 2010, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cut education spending $300 million statewide.
“We lost $336,000 and that was like overnight. That was quite a shock,” Letz said.
The impact of circuit breaker tax caps also hit the Hebron schools harder than all but a few other districts in the state, Letz said. The five school funds provided for through property taxes lost almost $411,000 last year.
Without more money from the referendum or the state — Letz hopes schools get more than the 1 percent increase legislators have said they would receive — the school district will have to start cutting staff.
“We have told the public we would be cutting 10 teachers and a number of instructional aides at the elementary level, and that would be the first reduction, for next fall,” he said.
If the state comes through with more funding for the schools, Molchan said, the district wouldn’t implement the tax increase from the referendum if it passes.
“If we don’t need it, we’re not going to take it,” he said, adding people are upset about the prospect of their taxes going up, and his taxes will increase, too.
Blank knows his commercial property taxes will go up even more under the referendum than on his residence, because commercial property doesn’t get the same exemptions.
His approach on the matter is that Hebron is a desireable place to live because of the quality of its schools.
“I don’t want to pay any more taxes than anyone else does,” Blank said, “but the alternative just isn’t an alternative to me. That’s why we’re putting it to the voters.”