Group urges 'no' vote on Elkhart schools referendum

ELKHART — A new political action committee is urging voters to oppose a bid to raise almost $16 million for Elkhart Community Schools.

The group, “Best for Elkhart,” will be led by Bristol businessman Jeff Petermann, who filed paperwork on Monday to form the committee.

The Elkhart School Board voted unanimously last week to place the referendum question on the ballot to support a tax levy increase that would provide what school officials call much-needed revenue. The question up for a vote in May would raise almost the additional funding over the course of eight years.

School officials said the proposed referendum will specifically address funding for attracting and retaining teachers, academic and educationally related programs, managing class sizes and school safety initiatives.

“The district is not voting to raise taxes but is providing an opportunity for the community to vote on their priorities for education as other districts around us have,”  ECS Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said in an email Tuesday. “The referendum is a way for the district to be able to compensate teachers and staff with what they are worth.”

According to the approved resolution, the district is requesting 58 cents per $100 assessed value. This would replace the current operating tax referendum of $0.1385, which would ultimately raise the tax levy by $0.4415.

Petermann said this decision is not only harmful to homeowners but will end up forcing many businesses out of Elkhart as well.

“The ‘Yes for Elkhart’ referendum from a few years back opened a conduit, and, unfortunately now, Elkhart Community Schools thinks that property owners in Elkhart are their piggy bank,” Petermann said in a statement. “It is time to say no more referendums. It is time to force ECS into fiscal sanity. It is time to hold these folks accountable.”

“The money spent from the original referendum was spent for safety upgrades and new roofs,” Petermann continued, “but the school system ended up $1 million under budget on the roofs and used that money to do things that were not in their original plan.”

Since starting the committee, Petermann said it has received a favorable response. The committee started a Facebook group on Sunday which 81 members have joined so far. Petermann said yard signs will be available in the next 5-7 days.

“I’ve gotten over a dozen calls within the last 24 hours from people thanking me,” Petermann said. “It’s just a really bad thing for Elkhart and people really are interested in doing everything they can to make sure (the referendum) doesn’t pass.”

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