CHURUBUSCO — Smith-Green Community Schools’ Board of Trustees approved a resolution for taxpayers to vote for a referendum of $0.628 per $100 of assessed value to assist in budget shortfalls for the next eight years.
The $0.628 is a maximum tax rate the board could approve for the next eight years as needed.
The unanimous decision came after brief comments from the public and board members.
Business Manager Jodi Royer provided statistics on school funding, which administrators said was much different years ago.
In 2009, the district received $8.8 million for the general fund. In 2016, Smith-Green spent $7.3 million — $1.5 million less than seven years prior.
“Since legislation changed and the money is coming from a different pot, it’s not keeping up with the increases in technology and the cost of living,” Royer said. “It simply has not kept up.”
If the referendum is approved in the spring, all money collected from the tax increase would be collected in the general fund and out of the control of the state, which now has control of where and how the district spends its money.
Local farmer Mel Egolf was the first member of the public to speak, expressing his disappointment in the “extreme financial distress” the district faces.
“To say that our financial condition is the state’s fault is only part of the problem we face,” Egolf said. “Fifteen years of declining enrollment, stagnant assessed valuation and poor financial management may be equal factors.
“It was stated that the state would have no control over how the additional money could be spent. Given our current condition and how we got here, I take absolutely no comfort in that thought.”
Churubusco Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Janet Lantz countered Golf’s argument. Lantz transferred her child from Northwest Allen County Schools to Smith-Green, where she thought her child would have better opportunities.
“I knew as a staff member what we had to offer here,” Lantz said. “I’m here to tell you as a parent and teacher, there’s no place I’d rather be. Every day, I walk through that door and I know it’s a great place for kids — and I want to keep it that way. It’s a privilege every day to come here and teach, I want to see this continue.”
Harold Troyer is a former Smith-Green school board member who said he has “mixed emotions” about the referendum, especially with his history in farming.
Troyer noted that large landowners will bear the brunt of the tax increase, but also doesn’t want to see the school district fail.
“I’m not totally against it,” Troyer said. “But, if it goes through, I guarantee there will be some bird dogs watching this. I love the school system and I don’t want to see it go down the tubes. I’m very proud of what’s come out of this school, but I caution you, you will be watched on how the money is spent.”
Superintendent Dan Hile and board members said they invite the public to offer suggestions on how to spend the money.
“This is a big deal — it’s a lot of money we’re talking about,” Hile said.
Board members indicated they were ready to move forward with the referendum resolution because they feel the district is at a turning point.
“Do we just want to get by, or keep moving forward on the successes we’ve had?” Board President Dean Geiger said. “I’m concerned that if the school does drop off — whether programming or something more final than that — I’m afraid what would happen to the rest of the community.”
Smith-Green has received a significant financial boost from its over 100 transfer students — students who live outside Smith and Green townships — which come with about $970,000.
Pat McGuire spoke at the end of the meeting, calling for a more permanent fix to the financial woes.
“I think what the board did tonight was a wise move, although it is only a stopgap measure,” McGuire said. “You have a responsibility to set a few plans in motion to make sure we put something into effect that will resolve the problem. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to change the state other than at the ballot box.”
The official verbiage that will be on this spring’s primary election ballot for residents in Smith Township in Whitley County and Green Township in Noble County is as follows:
“For the eight calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Smith-Green Community Schools Corporation impose a property tax rate that does not exceed sixty-two and eight tenths cents ($.0.628) 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 and maintaining current educational and operational programs including student safety and transportation and any other education and operational needs of the school corporation.”
Voters will have the option to vote “yes” or “no” to the proposed referendum.