By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
It was 321 votes that caused the failure of the referendum to bail out the Gary Community School Corporation’s financial troubles, leaving the district to come up with options to keep afloat.
The vote was 9,389 against the referendum, while 9,068 were in favor of it. If it had passed, it would have been able to alleviate some of the district’s $75 million debt.
Taxpayers were not in agreement with seeing an increase in property taxes to the tune of 47.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. With a 75 percent collection rate, it could have yielded as much as $8.7 million annually.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the outcome of the referendum indicates that the citizens are willing to support the Gary School System because of the small margin it lost by. She said, “We will be meeting with members of the state legislature to discuss a proposal on helping the school system, and we are not ruling out proposing another referendum.”
School Board Member Nellie F. Moore said she wasn’t shocked that the referendum didn’t pass, but was disappointed. She believed for most people the benefit of the tax base funding for the school system would outweigh the impact of the increased property taxes. “I thought the importance of the referendum and the need for tax base funding was understood and that it would get more support from the people.”
Moore believes that the majority of the citizens did not support the referendum because they got a lot of their information from the streets and the information was incorrect.
“No one wants to pay more taxes. The average home in Gary cost $75,000 with a tax base of $93.00. That came to about $20 a month. The problem was there were certain forces giving out wrong information. People like the mayor, Earline Rogers, Eddie Melton, Dr. Vernon G. Smith, and LaVetta Sparks-Wade got out there and up front and personal to push for it. We really put forth much more of an effort on it this time.”
Moore said the school system currently has two options in place to attempt to rescue the school system. The first option is to go before the state legislature and ask that they release some of the various debts they have. She said the amount of debt they are currently operating with varies.
“In terms of operating, we are $75 million in debt, which does not include the district’s new buildings. But, when you pay a vendor, your debt goes down.”
She went on to say their second option is to seek legal remedies against the state with the help of the citizens because the school system cannot sue the state.
“We will not voluntarily close the doors. We intend to continue until the state tells us what they have decided. We are telling them to help us. We are very hopeful.”
Unfortunately, the school system isn’t too hopeful this upcoming payday because the 700 employees of the district have been notified that on Nov. 11 they will not be getting paid. The district will not be able to make payroll until Tuesday. Letters went out to all school employees this week.