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Drug testing plan for Portage Township schools elusive

Updated: February 17, 2014 8:54AM



After several months of consideration, the Portage Township school board came no closer to establishing a random drug-testing program for students at its Wednesday night discussion session.

School superintendent Ric Frataccia acknowledges that drug use in the school is not rampant; nonetheless he thinks the issue needs to be addressed.

“We have steel companies spending considerable time interviewing job candidates that can’t pass drug tests,” he said afterwards. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

“I don’t anticipate we would have a drug policy in place prior to next school year,” Frataccia told the board.

Describing the framework of any drug testing policy, Frataccia advocated a non-punitive system for students and parents to obtain necessary help to address a problem for first time offenders. He was uncertain what to do with kids caught multiple times.

“If we have a random program, we want to highlight it is for assistance,” Frataccia said.

Further, Frataccia views random drug testing more as a deterrence to drug use. “It gives kids a tool to help them say no.”

Frataccia hopes to solicit the thoughts of a diverse range of students, “to determine if such a policy would act as a deterrence. My thinking is that they think it’s does not work as a deterrence. My response is, ‘tell me what would work.’”

Tax sharing arrangements with the Portage Redevelopment Commission (RDC) are still on hold, as Frataccia reviewed steps taken by the Porter County Redevelopment Commission and the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission to distribute some tax revenue lost to school districts due to tax increment financing (TIF) districts.

TIF districts redirect property tax revenue from within the district to a redevelopment commission to be used for capital projects that further economic development goals. Tax revenue going to a redevelopment commission are generally lost to other taxing entities, such as schools, within the TIF district.

Frataccia told the board that Portage RDC consultant John Shepherd estimated that Portage Township Schools could recover up to $1 million annually from the RDC should some tax revenue sharing arrangement be created.

“I think we should ask for our fair share,” said school board president Cheryl Oprisko. “It’s up to them (RDC) to say, ‘no, we’re not going to give you that much money.’”

Discussions between the school district and RDC have generally been amicable and point to a settlement of sorts in the future. The RDC proposes to distribute some funds to the school district in the form of capital grants.

Frataccia said that he is waiting for the Portage RDC to create an application for any such grant money and suggested that the RDC needs to pass a declaratory resolution authorizing the capital grants to the school district.

“I’m ready to give it to the mayor tomorrow, but I’m not going to show it to him before I show it to you,” he told the board.



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