Updated: June 6, 2013 6:16AM
On Tuesday, the School Town of Munster is asking residents to vote on an increase of our property taxes to fund its school districts. According to school corporation officials and its superintendent, homeowners can expect to pay approximately an extra $200 a year in property taxes for a home valued at $200,000.
This does not seem like an unreasonable request; for those with homes in the $200,000 price range, it comes to about $17 a month more in property taxes.
Such is the pernicious thinking that goes into all tax increases — it is not that much money, so what’s the big deal. This type of thinking focuses on the incremental increase instead of the amount of money we are already paying in taxes. When viewed from the amount of money we are already paying in taxes — it is a big deal!
As a Munster resident, a homeowner and mother of a pre-school child, I am just as interested in maintaining a quality school system as anyone else is in Munster. And, as the advocates for the referendum have noted, good public schools help maintain property values. Nonetheless, I must vote “no” for this referendum and suggest that my fellow Munster citizens do the same. Here is why.
First, the problem with Munster school funding is not the amount of taxes we pay — it is the amount that the School Town of Munster receives from the state. Munster receives a very low amount of per-student funding from the state relative to the other school districts. Out of approximately 366 school districts around the state, Munster is almost at the bottom of per-student funding — ninth from last. This is an injustice and inequality. Simply put, Munster citizens and its school-aged children are not being treated equitably by the state of Indiana. Despite this, Munster has one of the top rated school systems.
What the School Town of Munster, its superintendent and its school board need to address is the inequity of the funding formula for the state of Indiana.
The answer to this inequality is not to make Munster citizens MORE unequal by asking Munster residents to pay even more taxes to fund our children’s education. The answer is to force the state to equitably distribute the tax money it already collects so that Munster residents are not treated unjustly, unfairly and unequally. This is, no doubt, a difficult task. But it is what should be done — and for the long-term prospect of the Munster school system, it is what must be done. Of course, any such effort will need to involve our state legislators — namely Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and Sen. Frank Mrvan.
Put simply, our elected officials on the school board as well as in the Indiana state legislature should be fighting on our behalf to ensure that we get the money we need to educate our children. This is a more difficult task than simply asking Munster residents if we want to tax ourselves more to make up for the inequality of our state funding. The Munster school board, its superintendent and our state legislators should be fighting for the equitable education of our children by challenging the state school funding formula. Unfortunately, they are not.
Second, there needs to be an assessment of administrative versus instructional costs. Major studies have demonstrated that administrative cost increases in school districts (across the county) have exploded while instructional costs (the cost of teachers) have not. I am bothered by the fact that those who administer the budget and who are asking for the tax increase are from the very strata that costs the most. It is difficult to cut administrative costs relative to instructional costs when the individuals in control of the budget are from solely the administrative strata. Before any new tax dollars are raised, this must be addressed.
Finally, Munster residents are facing not just a tax increase from a school referendum but also from Lake County, which wants to impose a 1.5 percent income tax and the state has just voted to release the hold on our levy, which means that many of us will see additional increases in our property taxes. The citizens of Munster are not endless vessels of money. When it comes to taxes and tax increases, less is more.
Marie Eisenstein earned her Ph.D. in political science from Purdue University in 2004. She currently teaches American government at Indiana University Northwest. The opinions expressed here are her own.