'It's pay me now or pay me later': Wawasee Schools seek raised tax this November

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WAWASEE, Ind. - Early voting is underway across Michiana and tonight our Learning Curve team is previewing the first of two referendums on Michiana ballots.

Our team is heading an hour Southeast to Wawasee School District where officials are asking voters to raise their property taxes. School officials say the extra money will help students can continue to achieve.

“Yeah, it's a pay me now or pay me later sort of thing for a community and we would hope that people would step up and pay now," Tom Edington, Wawasee Schools Superintendent said.

As you head to the polls this election day, Wawasee school officials want you to vote yes on their referendum. They’re asking for an increased property tax rate of 28 ½ cents for the next 8 years. A raise that school officials say is long overdue.

"There's an educational fund and, and an operations fund. And those two are separate people who pay property taxes, pay into the operations fund, that's for buildings and, and buses and those things surrounding actual teaching and learning. And then the state gives us a certain amount of money per student in the educational fund that began in 2008," he said. "So 12 years ago, the amount of money given by the state has been rather flat and hasn't kept up with inflation. So the only way we can increase our educational fund is to have a referendum and increase the actual local tax rate to supply those funds.”

Right now, Wawasee has the lowest school tax rate in the school.

"There are only three other districts that are less than $1. Right now. So, so we would, at the end of this process with a yes vote be at 70 cents. And so we would still be 20 cents below. Really, those the lower two to compare with us," Edington said.

So what does this property tax increase mean for your budget? If you have a $150,000 house your taxes could go up $175 a year.

However, school officials say it probably won’t be that high.

"We would expect to see things that about half of what that tax calculator on the website would show," he said.

The school district says they plan to spend this extra money on several things. First is safety and security

"The safety improvements we're looking at are some are those physical improvements which are safer buses to put cameras on the stop arms and be able to catch and prosecute those who would run this bus stop arm. And in addition door security and additional cameras in our buildings that would take care of the physical parts of safety," he said.

And the second is the expansion of school programs and instruction including the school's pathway and new adult education programs.

“Our pathways program is one that we have built up, it's a dynamic program and juniors and seniors can take half-day classes and a particular trade and graduate with a high paying with high paying job skills," he said. "Wawasee has a super program for college-bound students and many ap classes and dual credit classes. But there, there is a segment that hasn't taken advantage of those career classes and they aren't college-bound and we just need to provide more opportunities for them.”

Some of the money would go to classes that are overflowing? Like the school's nursing program.

"I know, some of our other teachers were wanting to build up some of their programs. And so, you know, they're lacking some of the supplies right now that they need, and that would really help them you know, benefits students," Derrick Fisher, the Marine Mechanics Instructor said.

Or the school's marine mechanics program.

“A lot of our students aren't going to go to a four-year school. So we can get the hands-on training right here at Wawasee. So you know, where we could potentially save students lots of money, versus going to college doing those trades programs, we can do it right here," Fisher said. “You know the money is not just going for us, it's you know, it could benefit the community. And, you know, that's huge. You get people the training that they need to, you know, do the jobs that are here in Syracuse,”

“Leads to a better quality of life and a better community to live in with the higher paid workers and those with great job skills can help our economy grow," Edington said.

However, the vote might hit a snag come election day with several Hoosiers buying second homes on the lake they will not be able to vote.

“So we do have ones who come from the outside and come in in the summer, who helped in a great measure take care of what we need to do with our students here in school," he said. "We just due to the way the funding is situated are asking them to help raise our citizens here or future citizens here.”

So the district is asking them to help out other students' education and the community as a whole.

“I really hope that they would vote yes. Again, it goes back to our students, you know, the more opportunities they have. And that's what really it comes down to is keeping our students safe, and you know, giving them as many opportunities as we can to make them better for our community," Fisher said.

The school has received federal money because of this pandemic. But the superintendent said he isn’t sure when that will run out and is hopeful that if this referendum passes, the money could also be used for other coronavirus needs.

Coming up on Thursday, our team heads to Bremen where a similar referendum is also going up for a vote.

As always if you have any education-related questions or concerns email us! Learningcurve@abc57.com.

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