Wawasee Referendum

Signs both for and against a proposed Wawasee Community Schools referendum were on display Thursday morning at the intersection of North Huntington Street and Ind. 13 in Syracuse.

SYRACUSE — On Nov. 3, registered voters within the Wawasee Community School Corporation in Kosciusko County will be asked to throw their support behind a school referendum aimed at improving student safety and instruction within the district.

The referendum question, which will appear on the ballots of all district voters, reads as follows: “For the eight (8) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall Wawasee Community School Corporation impose a property tax rate that does not exceed twenty-eight and a half cents ($0.285) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property taxes imposed by the school corporation for the purpose of funding the expansion of safety and security measures, and the retention and expansion of school programming and instruction, including career-and-technical education and adult education?”

WHY NOW?

According to Thomas Edington, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation, the decision to seek the referendum this year was due primarily to the fact that funding formulas for public education have not kept up with the cost of inflation. This in turn has required schools to seek operating referendums to address the shortfall, he explained.

Digging deeper into the reasoning behind the decision, Edington noted that the state lowered property taxes in 2008 by taking the general fund, now education fund, out of local property taxes.

Now, the state pays schools that educational funding through what is known as the “basic grant,” while local taxes go to facilities and facility debt, transportation and maintenance, technology and extra activities.

Edington noted that the basic grant, which is determined by each school’s student population, has not kept up with inflation, resulting in more than 200 school districts from across the state having pursued referendums since the 2008 change went into effect.

“Since 2008, our district has had pretty flat funding from the state, basically from the year 2013 on. And one reason for that is that around 70% of the rural districts in the state have lost student population,” Edington said, noting that a big portion of that loss is due to students using state vouchers to attend religious schools and because of state support for charter schools. “So, the only way for a school district to gain additional funding is to conduct a referendum. And while we’ve worked to stave off that process for as long as possible, we’re now at a point where the education part for our students, there are just some areas of need that cannot be met without a referendum.”

THREE KEY AREAS

According to Edington, the primary goals with the proposed referendum are three-fold, and include: increasing educational opportunities for the district’s students; retaining and expanding the district’s robust vocational training programs, including adult education; and providing additional school safety measures for every building, including social and emotional services for students.

Should the referendum be approved, a sample of some of the primary changes and improvements that would be implemented across the school district over the next eight years includes:

• Increasing the quality and quantity of the district’s college and career-ready programs;

• Completing the installation of safe and secure entries at all of the district’s school buildings, eliminating the risk of unwanted intruders;

• Retaining the district’s current school resource officers;

• Installing up-to-date security cameras in all secondary schools, thus improving safety with the ability to capture 100% of activities throughout buildings;

• Expanding the career/technical/vocational instructional opportunities for the district’s high school students, thus improving graduation rates and providing a path to career success for students;

• Putting literacy professionals in every school to improve reading and comprehension in students, ultimately improving graduation rates; and

• Allowing the Center for Academic Success for students needing an alternative form of classroom instruction to become more impactful, thus improving graduation rates and providing a path to career success for students.

COST TO TAXPAYERS?

While the referendum question, if approved, would allow the district to impose a not-to-exceed property tax rate increase of 28.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation over the next eight years, Edington noted that the actual increase will be 14.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

“In February of this year, when we were looking at the referendum with the school board, and advisors and such, we had settled on an increase of 14.5 cents on the tax rate. But then COVID-19 hit, and we weren’t sure about our future federal funding, and the state funding we weren’t sure about, and the local funding. So, we were worried, from all funding sources, and we just doubled that amount and said 28.5 cents,” Edington said of the figure. “However, now that things have settled down, and we’ve figured out that the economy is still working, people are paying taxes, and home prices aren’t dropping, etc., we’re now once again looking at that 14.5 cents. So, that’s our plan right now. And we’ve been good for our word in the past, and hope the people would trust that.”

All in all, Edington said, the plan would be to raise a little more than $3 million a year for the district through the referendum, with that amount gradually decreasing over the referendum’s eight-year duration, baring any unforeseen issues.

“We’re in a great community, and we’ve felt support in the past for our schools, and this is something where we’re asking people to step up and help us meet the needs that our students have in today’s world,” Edington said of the referendum. “And with our 47% free and reduced lunch rate, and students who really need support in addition to just the teaching of academics, we are hoping that proceeds from this referendum can enable us to just grow together as a community, and increase our graduation rate, and provide more students with the job skills they’ll need upon graduating from high school to assist this community in the future.”

For more information about the proposed referendum, visit www.yesforwawasee.com.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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