ELKHART — Elkhart Community Schools superintendent Rob Haworth doesn't want your kids walking to school in the cold any more than you do.
Haworth announced Monday, Dec. 16, that he will ask the school board to consider a referendum to fund transportation operating costs, safety upgrades to school buildings and more.
“There's never a good time to go to your community for a referendum, but this is a better time,” he said, citing corporation debt that will soon be paid off.
If the board agrees, a public hearing will be held on Jan. 6 where board members and school administrators will talk specifics of the project — including how much it will all cost and how much tax payers would be expected to kick in. Haworth declined to give a dollar amount for the proposed referendum on Monday, saying that it's yet to be decided.
Haworth said that if the Elkhart community votes to support the referendum — meaning an increase in taxes — that additional money could pay for:
- Transportation. “When I think of a referendum, I think of the two-mile walk zone,” Haworth said.
The school corporation currently has less than 100 buses running and would need to cut even more to stay on budget. If a transportation operating referendum were approved, it would fund transportation for seven years. Haworth said that after that time is up, the hope is that Elkhart's economy — and assessed property values — will have improved, creating more money in the transportation fund.
- Safety upgrades. Elkhart Community Schools recently went through a safety audit. Haworth said that administration knew, even before they got the results of the audit, that major changes would be needed.
“Our schools are safe, but they could be safer,” he said.
He added that audit results showed that all the buildings in the corporation put together have only as many cameras as an average high school.
- Pools. The corporation has two pools, one at each of the high schools. Both pools are about 40 years old, Haworth said, and they need some work. He would ask for a “total rework” of the pool at Memorial, and more minor changes to Central's pool.
Money made available from increased taxes would also help with maintenance and repairs that some Elkhart school buildings desperately need, Haworth said.
“It's time for new roofs on some Elkhart Community Schools,” he said.
Haworth said that he didn't make the decision to recommend a referendum on his own. Since October, he's met several times with a group of 45 community members.
The group decided that a referendum was necessary to deal with some of the corporation's losses as a result of property tax caps, Haworth said.
But will the community support paying more in taxes in order to help the school?
Haworth thinks so, adding that he's been “blown away” by Elkhart's spirit to help others.
“I think we will be successful because of that heart, but also because it's the right thing to do,” he said.
He also referenced support from the community group that recommended a referendum.
“It's their vision to not keep Elkhart schools at status quo — to bring more people in,” he said. “That's why we are going to win.”