Munster School Corp. holds meetings on upcoming referendum
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent February 4, 2013 10:36PM
Munster Schools superintendent Richard Sopko goes through some of the items affecting Munster Schools during a meeting at Munster High School Monday night on a proposed May ballot question for a referendum. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
If you go
Another forum on the proposed referendum takes place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 5 in the Munster High School auditorium.
Updated: February 4, 2013 10:40PM
MUNSTER — If Munster residents decide not to support a referendum that would generate $21 million in revenue for its schools, the school corporation will likely reach its “turning point.”
Superintendent Richard Sopko presented the budget and referendum plan to 251 attendees during the first of two public meetings he’ll hold in the Munster High School auditorium explaining the referendum. The district is proposing a rate of 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation over seven years, which would mean the average Munster home, last valued at $244,835, would see taxes go up $253 per year, or $21.04 per month.
If the School Board approves moving forward with the referendum, it would take place in a special vote in May, said Superintendent Richard Sopko.
Although in the state’s top 5 percent academically, the School Town ranks 348 of 357 in per-pupil funding and receives $4,750 per student, compared with the state average of $5,668 per student, Sopko told the group. If it received only the state average in funding, the additional $3.8 million a year gained would eliminate the need for the referendum.
“There is a virtual school that’s ranked 11th from the bottom, and Munster’s ranked 9th,” Sopko said. “There’s more money going to a virtual school. That’s ridiculous.”
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, and then former Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered statewide cuts to public schools of $900 million, which cost Munster $4.5 million, Sopko said.
To slow the devastation, 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. And it will continue having to cut teachers and programming for the foreseeable future if nothing is done.
If teachers go, the district will start to erode, and if students leave, the money could be reduced so badly that the state would intercept the corporation’s general fund money to pay debt service, thereby effectively shutting it down, added Jim Higgins, an accountant with Indianapolis firm London Witte Group.
“This is a good school district that’s getting beaten up,” Sopko said. “The taxpayers need to make it right.
After the presentation, attendees were asked to split up into moderated groups to voice concerns. Tim M. DeRolf, an 8th grader at Wilbur Wright Middle School, said he fears what will happen if the school cuts activities.
“If kids don’t have activities, they may lose out on making friends,” he said. “I have another 4 years here, so what if the elementary kids get stuck with nothing?”
Dan Lowry, who’s taught history at the middle school since 1968, praised the students but admitted Sopko’s warning of the turning point scares him.
“I can’t imagine our programs changing. That frightens me,” Lowry said.