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The Journal Gazette

  • Hile

Monday, May 07, 2018 1:00 am

A matter of trust

Smith-Green referendum seeks to keep pace

Daniel G. Hile

Daniel G. Hile is superintendent of Smith-Green Community Schools.

To my friends, family and community members of Smith-Green Community Schools:

I want to thank each and every one of you for your unending support of our school district. As a member of the Churubusco community for the past 15 years as a resident, teacher, administrator and, most importantly, as a parent, I have always felt so blessed to live and work in such a wonderful community.

As you know, Smith-Green Community Schools has placed a referendum on Tuesday's ballot. This question asks our community to consider giving Smith-Green schools permission to use property tax revenue to generate additional operational funding, which would be used to support our academics and programs. So that community members are able to make a confident decision at the voting booth, I would like to summarize a few key points.

The deficit we are facing is a direct result of changes made to school funding by Public Law 146 in 2008. Prior to that change, public schools received financial support from both state sources and local property taxes. With the change, the state assured everyone that while property taxes would be removed, sales tax would increase to keep school funding constant. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Looking specifically at Smith-Green schools, in 2017 our school district received $597 less per student than in 2009 (the last year we received state and local support). If per-student funding had stayed at the level used in 2009,  Smith-Green would be receiving an additional $705,654 this year. A similar deficit has existed each year since 2009, leading to an enormous amount of decreased revenue.

To adapt to these changes, Smith-Green made many cuts and reductions over the past eight years, to the tune of well over $1 million. Teachers, administrators and course offerings have been lost, forcing school staff to do more with less. In spite of this, costs continue to rise, and because state funding has not kept up with inflation, the deficit remains.

Last July, I accepted this position knowing we had a major challenge ahead. We analyzed our expenses and revenue, and ran projections for future years. It became clear that Smith-Green schools only has two options: either we  make another round of drastic cuts to teachers, staff and programs, or generate additional revenue. The only legal option in Indiana that allows public schools to generate additional revenue for operating expenses is a property tax referendum.

While the proposed referendum rate cannot exceed $0.628, it can be set lower. As required by law, if approved by our taxpayers, the referendum rate will be reviewed every fall during the budget cycle, and will be set based on an analysis of expenses, revenue and enrollment. The budget process occurs each year over a series of public school board meetings. The goal of everyone involved will be to keep taxes as low as possible, while still providing our children with quality academic programs and opportunities. Most importantly, we will continue the level of transparency used during this process so our community can see how their tax dollars are used.

Without additional referendum funding, significant cuts must happen within the next few weeks. Teacher and staff positions that support our children's academics and programs will be lost. There will be immediate and long-term consequences, as it will become increasingly likely that our students will choose to attend another district that is able to provide the things we will have lost. As our funding is now tied directly to student enrollment, additional cuts will be necessary in the years ahead. While I have been very clear that school closings are not a current consideration, it is not hard to imagine that day may come if Smith-Green schools is forced to make cuts year after year.

This request is not taken lightly. I understand that one of the largest concerns is one of trust, and whether the school will be a good steward of this additional funding. While I cannot go back in time and correct any issues that may have occurred in the past, I hope that throughout this process we have shown our commitment to total transparency and communication with our community. This commitment will continue.

I ask that you please consider voting “yes” on Tuesday. I am committed to this community, and everything that it means to all of us who are fortunate enough to call Churubusco our home. I am excited to chart a new path together for Smith-Green schools; there are many exciting things on the horizon for our community, our schools and, most importantly, our children. I am asking you as a neighbor, friend and educator to join me as we decide together what we want for the future of Smith-Green Community Schools.