Munster eyes school referendum
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/648-3154 January 31, 2013 4:52PM
The School Town of Munster is hosting public forums at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday to detail reasons it is proposing a tax referendum in May.
The forums will be held in the Munster High School auditorium, 8808 Columbia Ave.
Updated: January 31, 2013 9:01PM
MUNSTER — Facing a $3.1 million budget deficit, the School Town of Munster will make its case next week for a $21 million tax referendum.
The 7:30 p.m. public forums are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the Munster High School auditorium.
Without the increased taxes, the school district will be forced to lay off teachers and make deep cuts into programs, such as orchestra, and cut other services.
“It’s raining,” Superintendent Richard Sopko said Thursday in explaining the reason for the forums.
If the School Board approves moving forward with the referendum, it would take place in a special vote in May.
Sopko said Munster, although in the state’s top 5 percent academically, ranks 348 of 357 in per-pupil funding. Munster receives $4,750 per student, compared to the state average of $5,668 per student. Sopko said if Munster only received the state average, it would mean an additional $3.8 million a year, eliminating the need for the referendum.
The district is proposing a rate of 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation over seven years.
That would mean an average home valued at $244,835, would see taxes go up $253 per year or $21.04 per month.
Prior to 2008, public schools were funded through local property taxes that supported the general fund used for salaries and utilities. Munster received $25 million in its general fund that year. After 2008, the state shifted away from funding schools with property taxes, opting to fund them statewide by increasing the sales tax.
Without property taxes, Munster’s general fund declined to $14 million in 2009. “In the past, Munster could stabilize itself with property taxes, now it can’t do that,” said Sopko.
Compounding the district’s woes, former Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered statewide cuts to public schools of $900 million in 2009. That cost Munster $4.5 million, Sopko said.
Lawmakers also retooled the state school funding formula, adjusting the foundation level, which reduced Munster’s funding.
With all the cuts, Sopko said Munster has drained most of its rainy day fund.
Munster teachers and staffers have already agreed to a salary freeze and the district has made cuts of $5.3 million since 2010, Sopko said.
Meanwhile, in Porter County, the Boone Township and Union Township school boards have approved May referendums to raise school taxes. A similar measure was approved by voters in the Duneland School Corp. last year.