ELKHART — State Senator Carlin Yoder has voiced his support for the proposed referendum to raise funding for Elkhart Community Schools.
At a Wednesday, April 2, meeting held by Yes4Elkhart, the political action committee promoting Elkhart's referendum, Yoder said the referendum is necessary to recoup the district's financial losses due to property tax caps.
"I supported the tax caps and understood that they could have adverse effects on schools," Yoder said. "It is incumbent upon (lawmakers) to step up and support referendums when they appear and we see a real need.
"Elkhart Community Schools needs real help," he said.
"I am not proud that in my district there are schools where the roofs leak and kids have to walk two miles to school each day," he said. "That, in my mind, is unacceptable."
Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Rob Haworth said the school corporation lost $5.3 million due to tax caps in 2013 and is projected to lose $6.3 million in 2014.
The operating referendum would pay for transportation operating costs for the next seven years. If approved, the school district could shorten walk zones, bus rides and the elementary school day, among other changes.
The capital project referendum would pay for major safety upgrades in all Elkhart Community Schools buildings, including putting “Columbine locks” on classroom doors. These locks can be locked from inside the classroom. They were named after the 1999 Columbine school shooting incident.
Also included in the capital project referendum are many building repairs.
If the measures pass, transportation changes would go into effect this fall, and security and building upgrades would begin immediately, Haworth said.
James Lake of Kovert-Hawkins Architects addressed the planned security and building upgrades that would be covered by the referendum.
One of the most pressing security issues for the district is the open-concept design of Woodland and Pinewood elementary schools, where classrooms do not have doors.
"Tragedies have taught us that the most importing thing in a school is the ability to secure people," he said.
A teacher at Woodland Elementary School said she constructed a makeshift door for her classroom out of a clothing rack and a curtain. This flimsy barrier offers little comfort or protection during lockdowns, she said.
In addition to doors and improved locks for classrooms, the district would also add more security cameras, upgrade security systems and relocate or realign school offices.
The district's financial adviser, Todd Samuelson of Umbaugh and Associates, said the school district currently has the third-lowest tax rate in Elkhart County.
If both measures pass, a homeowner with a home worth $111,000, which is the average home value in the district, would pay an additional $4.37 per month for the transportation referendum and $1.80 per month for the security referendum.
For more information about Yes4Elkhart, visit the group's Facebook page or yes4elkhart.org or call 214-5498.