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Campaign for Elkhart school referendum takes shape

The Yes4Elkhart group hopes to become a source of information for the public's questions about Elkhart's school referendum.

Posted on Feb. 4, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.

ELKHART — Tanzie Nielsen, Elkhart mom and former PTO president, has found a new but familiar passion. She's one of the leaders of Yes4Elkhart, a political action committee that's formed to spread the word about Elkhart Community Schools' referendum

"I strongly believe in, and support, the referendum," Nielsen said on Monday, Feb. 3. "I think public schools are the backbone of our community. I feel like if there's anything I can do, I want to get in there and do it."

In early January, the Elkhart school board voted to place two referenda on the ballot in the May primary election. If a majority of voters support the two referenda, the district will be able to collect more money in property taxes to fund needed changes to school buildings. The extra funds will also help with transportation costs. 

The Yes4Elkhart group, consisting mostly of parent volunteers, launched a website, www.yes4elkhart.org, on Monday, Feb. 3. But the Yes4Elkhart Facebook page has been up and running since December 17 — and it's already gathered more than 900 likes.

Yes4Elkhart 
What: A group of parents and volunteers who are trying to spread the word about the school referendum.
Where: More information on the group can be found at www.yes4elkhart.org or on the Yes4Elkhart Facebook page.

Nielsen sees Yes4Elkhart as a way the public can get information on the sometimes complex funding issues that the school corporation faces. 

"We encourage questions, we encourage conversation," Nielsen said. "I feel really confident that whatever opposition or concern people have, I feel confident that we will be able to find the information from the school corporation and respond with facts."

One opposing voice is that of David Henke, Elkhart city councilman. Henke said Monday that schools should have been putting money aside for things like roof repairs — one of the items that Elkhart's referendum will pay for — a long time ago.

"We are going to have to get good at projecting and forecasting needs," he said, adding that budget shortfalls "happen every year, to every government agency."

Henke wants schools to look at using the rainy day fund to make up losses until after 2015, the year that Elkhart schools will have paid off some of its current debt. 

After that happens, he said, schools should take out a small bond and pay it back using the money it was paying toward earlier debt.

This small bond amount, he said, should be used to maintain facilities and keep spending constant. 

Henke's main concern with the school referendum is that higher taxes will cause even more hardship for local families which are already struggling. He brought up other tax initiatives such as the proposed local option income tax and the proposed food and beverage tax. 

If all of these initiatives come to pass, he said, the negative impact on Elkhart's economy would be "irreversible."

"Does that mean that any of us want less for our kids?" he said. "Not a chance. At the same time, we watch people struggling to pay taxes. We see a glut of foreclosed homes. If we raise that tax and impact that family, that just puts them that much closer to, or over, the poverty line."

Henke said that he is not "anti-school" but rather "pro-community."

"We have a good school corporation," he said. "We can't make it so expensive that it starts to crumble."

Yes4Elkhart has two upcoming events. "Skate for Elkhart," is from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 14 at the downtown skating rink in Elkhart. The proceeds will go toward paying for campaigning materials, Nielsen said. 

"Walk Two Miles in their Shoes" is at 10 a.m. Feb. 17. A group of supporters will meet at Monger Elementary School and walk to Elkhart Central High School, in solidarity with the students who walk 2 miles to school every day because of cuts to Elkhart's transportation budget.

More information about both events can be found on the Yes4Elkhart website




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