By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
The Gary Community School Corporation will make a second attempt at turning to the voters to financially bail them out by proposing a $7.5 million operating referendum that will be on the ballot in the November 8 general election.
Jack Martin, the financial advisor appointed by the state to operate the school district, believes there may not be enough money available to meet payroll for the start of the 2016-17 school year.
Declining enrollment, less revenue under state-mandated property tax caps, changes in the school funding formula, and low property tax collections in Gary are some other reasons for the district’s financial problems.
Additionally, some believe the board is not publicly disclosing their plans for the referendum money if it is approved by the voters.
Carlos Tolliver, former union representative, said he couldn’t answer what the board’s thought process is on whether or not they can get the referendum passed. “I do know there are a couple of things that they have done that the community should be made aware of. One is that they are going to form a political PAC—a committee in support of the referendum. That’s when I asked if they were going to accept contributions from outside the city and they said ‘yes.’ There is the grave danger of outside special interests influencing this election. Citizens must become informed and get organized.”
Former school board member, Barbara Leek, host of WLTH’s radio talk show, “Education Matters,” said she doesn’t know if the board will be able to get the referendum passed because they haven’t shared much information with the general public.
If the referendum passes, it would seek a property tax increase of 47.5 cents per each $100 of assessed valuation in the city, totaling over $7 million dollars per year for seven years. Tolliver said the district debt does not come from having too much staff, but the district needs to focus on spending in the transportation, capital projects accounts first.
“The taxpayer’s debt will increase to $142 million if the referendum passes. Since Jack Martin has come to Gary, the public debt for schools will have risen 89 percent from $75 to $142 million if we pass this tax increase.”
School board members say the dire situation points to the necessity of passing an operating referendum this fall. However, in order to go on the November ballot, the question must be approved by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, the Lake County auditor and Clerk of the Circuit Court by Aug. 1.
During the primary election in 2015, 55 percent of Gary voters rejected a similar referendum that asked for a tax increase for the Gary School District.