Friday, April 29, 2016

Concord Junior High School art teacher Mary Amador, center, works with eighth-grader Katelynn Roell on a piece of pottery Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Student Wynne Drinsky works on a pot at right. Amador is the 2014 recipient of the Ann Hamilton Award for Inspired Teaching. (Jennifer Shephard / The Elkhart Truth) (Buy this photo)
Point of View: Community needs to support Concord Schools on May 6

Posted on April 22, 2014 at 4:18 p.m.

There are a number of very important reasons why we believe that Concord voters should vote “yes” on the school referendum on May 6.

As mothers of Concord students, we understand the effects of the loss in funding. Our kids are in overcrowded classrooms and using outdated technology. In fact, some kids are forced to sit on the floor because there isn’t enough room for more desks. Students are riding buses that have outlived their recommended lifespan. We also know it’s just a matter of time before school buildings will need repairs.

No one wants a tax increase, including the members of Yes for Concord Kids. But after looking at the facts and understanding that school administrators have been working for six years to trim and shift funds to cover for losses, we’ve come to the conclusion that there is no other choice but to accept a temporary increase. The May 6 referendum is a maximum seven-year, $0.405 increase per $100 of assessed valuation. For a home valued at $100,000, that means up to $132 more in property taxes each of those seven years.

Don’t just take our word for the financial situation — do your own research. The school system is audited by the Indiana State Board of Accounts every two years. Those audits are public record, as are the annual corporation budgets, which are also discussed openly at school board meetings and published annually. An Annual Performance Report also is published in the newspaper and includes salaries, budget vs. actual expenses, estimated revenue vs. what’s received and a list of all vendors paid in excess of $2,500. Concord Community Schools is transparent and accountable with its finances.

Concord has lost $10 million in property tax funding since 2008 and will lose another $4.2 million this year alone. The 2014 loss is the equivalent of cutting all of the teaching staff at Concord Junior High School or more teachers than the system has in all four elementary schools combined. Obviously, we can’t expect that to happen, nor would we want it to. The effects would be devastating. Cutting 125 teaching positions out of the corporation’s 500 teachers would increase class sizes to 40 in each elementary school if they were equally distributed and that’s not possible.

At the same time, our district has grown by 600 students since the 2005-2006 school year. That’s a good problem to have. On one hand, people recognize Concord’s academic strengths and want their children to receive that high-quality education. On the other hand, our funding is decreasing, yet we have more children to bus to the same size buildings with less staff to educate them, which means higher class sizes and changing the way buses run each day.

Cutting administrators is not going to help. Concord has a minimum number of administrators to handle our growing district’s needs and they’ve already taken voluntary pay cuts. Even if Concord could cut all principals and administrators, the system would still have to cut the equivalent of 74 full-time, first-year teachers’ salaries. Salaries are paid through the state-funded portion of the budget. Property taxes don’t cover teachers’ and administrators’ salaries.

Eliminating extracurricular activities won’t solve the funding problem, either. While school funding is complex, it’s not difficult to understand that Concord’s issues are affecting property tax-supported programs such as transportation, debt service (building construction and maintenance) and technology. Just as important: Extracurricular programs are essential to the overall educational experience. Colleges are looking for well-rounded students who have good grades and participate in sports, music, theater, debate, dance, service clubs or other activities. Some of those activities keep students on the edge in school when they otherwise might drop out.

Times have changed. Our school district is no longer comprised of farm land and single-family homes where students could develop an identity by working on the farm or maintaining a house and property. The schools are among the best places for kids to develop a sense of self-worth in this age of apartment dwelling and both parents working outside the home. Self-esteem and sense of purpose grow when students get involved in extracurricular activities.

As homeowners in the Concord district, we are also concerned about how a weakened school system will hurt property values in the area. Employers locate in an area for many reasons, not the least of which is the quality of the school system. High-quality schools also lead to a well-educated and prepared workforce. All of those factors come into play to keep our property values stable and high.

Of the state’s 292 school districts, Concord is No. 8 on the list of those school systems negatively impacted by property tax caps.

It’s important for the entire community to take responsibility for our school system by voting “yes” on May 6.

Dawn Fisher and Kathy Schiavone are co-chairwomen of “Yes for Concord Kids,” a committee of parents and patrons of Concord Community Schools aiming to educate the community on Concord’s May 6 referendum.