Munster school tax approved: ‘It’s a victory for our students’
MUNSTER — Voters said yes to higher school taxes by a 2-to-1 margin Tuesday.
A general fund referendum to raise an additional $3 million in local taxes for seven years passed easily, receiving 65 percent of the vote.
By 7:30 p.m., only one precinct hadn’t been posted as pro-referendum supporters rallied at the Charley Horse restaurant. The school tax measure passed in every precinct.
“It’s a bigger margin than I expected,” Superintendent Richard Sopko said. “I think the community as a whole values the education the students receive and approve of it. It’s a victory for our students.”
The School Town of Munster sought a 20-cent levy increase because school officials say the state’s funding formula keeps the district at the bottom of the state in per pupil funding. It receives about $5,400 per student, about $1,000 under the state average.
Sopko said the district has trimmed more than $5 million in expenses in the last three years and emptied its rainy day fund just to keep afloat.
Sopko said passage of the referendum will stave off layoffs of teachers, custodians and school programs. “We were looking at draconian cuts,” he said.
The town’s assessed valuation has increased, so school officials say the impact on homeowners will be less than anticipated.
In all cases, factors such as homestead and other deductions may lessen the impact.
The Munster schools enjoyed the support of an activist group called Friends of Munster Schools, which formed a political action committee to campaign for the referendum.
“The difference was the volunteers,” said Jack Yerkes, chairman of the group. “We got out a positive message and never emphasized the negative,” said Yerkes, a retired Munster teacher.
He said supporters went door-to-door, placed signs around town, and communicated via Facebook and other social media.
Supporter Tricia Shelton has two children in the school district and is president of the Elliott Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization.
“We know where the money is going and it’s going to what I value — the children.”
Shelton voiced surprise at the lopsided outcome. “We worried because it’s popular to say no to taxes,” she said.
The district will begin receiving the additional tax money next year. Sopko said a group of Munster businesses will oversee spending. “We won’t spend more than we need,” he said.