ELKHART — Despite frigid weather and a snow day for much of Elkhart County, several community members made it to an Elkhart school board meeting on Monday night, Jan. 6.
The public meeting was scheduled so the board could vote for or against three resolutions having to do with a referendum that superintendent Rob Haworth proposed in December. The board ultimately chose to pursue two separate referenda that, if approved by the voting public in a May election, would mean extra funds for the school district through a additional property taxes.
A total of six people spoke about the proposed referenda. Most said they support this method of funding, but Elkhart resident Rick Rudy disagreed.
Rudy said he thinks “there is a terrible amount of waste” when it comes to how much money is spent on paying for administrative positions in the corporation.
He specifically mentioned that he thinks Haworth is overpaid.
“I think you have the money for all these improvements and whatever else you want, if we just cut the fat out of the administration,” Rudy told the school board.
Two parents of Elkhart school children, one Elkhart businessman, the president of the Elkhart Teacher's Association, and the director of the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart said they are in favor of the referenda.
Ryon Wheeler, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart, said he supports the referenda because the schools need money for safety updates, repairs, and transportation.
“Our kids are constantly losing,” he said, adding, “It's hard to put a dollar amount on what their education is really worth. I would vote yes (for a referendum) because our kids are worth it, and I hope everyone else would too.”
Parent Tanzie Nielsen said she wants the schools to have the money they need to make buildings safer.
“With the violence in schools across the country, at the end of the school day, I am actually feeling a sense of relief that nothing happened that day,” Nielsen said. “I didn't feel like that before. It may sound paranoid, but these are my babies. The referendum can provide much-needed safety.”
Local businessman Amish Shah said the referendum isn't a conversation about a tax increase, but rather a conversation about the health of the community.
“A community starts and it ends with education,” he said. “Infrastructure, safety, busing...these all play a big role in education.”
He said that when he recruits people to Elkhart, a common question is “How are the schools?”
“We have to support these changes to make the schools better,” Shah said.
5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ELKHART SCHOOL'S REFERENDA PLAN
Elkhart Community Schools is asking the community to vote for two separate referenda — an operating referendum for $4,000,000 and a capital project referendum for $19,030,000.
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 repairs to many buildings.
The school board on Monday also approved a third resolution, saying that the district will freeze the total 2015 school tax rate at the 2014 level, even if the referenda are approved in May.
Haworth stated in a written release late Monday night that the school board's votes “set in motion a process that will allow voters to learn about the financial status of the school district, cost-cutting steps that have been taken already, and projects that are waiting for additional revenue.”