Breaking down Elkhart Schools referendum: Part 1

ELKHART, Ind. - We’re taking a deeper look at the Elkhart Schools Referendum ahead of next Tuesday's vote. If it’s approved - where is the money going and what does it mean for the average resident?

Teacher pay is just one area Elkhart Schools is hoping to support with its new school funding referendum.  It’s an issue Superintendent Steve Thalheimer Ph.D. says is “critical.”

Elkhart Community Schools is seeking a tax increase from residents.

The ask?

"It's a $15.25 million ask for the year,” Thalheimer said.

That’s for 8 years. But where is that money going?

The plan is broken down into three basic groups.

First, the largest chunk of money, $7.35 million is going towards increasing teacher pay for all ECS employees.

"We simply have not been able to be competitive compared to districts around us, when we've had 40% of our certified teaching positions roll over. And despite making $8 million in cuts, while we're saying servicing the same number of students, as we were in 2012, we just simply haven't been able to be competitive because funding hasn't kept up," he said. "So for us be able to keep employees across all of our positions, food service, bus drivers, teachers, all of those positions, it's important for us to be competitive in what we pay so that we can keep those people here and know how to teach the students of Elkhart and Bristol and for us to be able to develop relationships with students so that we can build student achievement.”

Second, $3 million is helping reduce out-of-pocket health insurance costs for staff.

"To assist with insurance premiums, and to account for people who might come on to the insurance because we're making it more affordable," he said.

And third, about $4.9 million is going towards transportation.

"Because of property tax caps in our operations fund, we don't have the dollars they are to be able to do what we need to do," he said. "We are asking voters to renew the 2014 transportation referendum, that was a 13 point 15 cent a ask that voters approved in 2014. Those dollars will run out for us in December. So at that point, we need to have that rollover and renewal so that those transportation funds can be available for us to be able to offer field trips, pay our best drivers competitively, and keep those elementary walk zones down.

But what does that mean for the average homeowner in the city of Elkhart?

"So 13.15 cents, people are already paying in already in their property tax bill, the additional ask that we have is an additional 25 cents asked," he said. "A median home in our district is a little bit over $122,000. So the 38 and a half cents on that is a total ask of $181. But people need to keep in mind that a portion of that the 13 cents is already being paid. So that takes $62 off of that. So for an immediate homeowner that would be an increase of about $119 a year or just under $10 a month.”

It’s an increase superintendent Thalheimer said is long overdue for the district... and well worth it.

"Other districts have made the ask of their communities to help with maybe essentially referenda or operating referenda, even if we do this for some of our neighboring districts that have done this, even with that additional 25 cents in our tax rate, our overall tax rate as a school district will be lower than some of our neighboring districts. So it still is an effective ask for our community and not as big an ask as we were making two years ago, again, knowing that this is absolutely what we need at this point," he said.

But as you will see... not everyone agrees.

The big vote is Tuesday, May 4th. Residents in the Elkhart Community School District are eligible to vote.

Coming up on Thursday, what parents and community members think about the increase especially after all the money K-12 schooling was just awarded by the state in the most recent budget.

I’ll break down some myths for you about school funding. If you have any further questions regarding the referendum, email me at [email protected].

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