CHESTERTON | Twelve years after helping lead a successful petition drive to build a new high school, Jim Jeselnick is promoting the call for a tax increase to support school district operations.
District voters in May will be asked to approve a 22-cent tax increase for a period of seven years to aid Duneland School Corp.
The former Duneland teacher, whose wife is a longtime teacher's aide for the district, has teamed up with district employees and residents in sounding the alarm about losses the school system faces from state-mandated cuts and funding formula inequities.
At stake are 20 teaching positions and one-third of the custodial and clerical staff, which will be cut if the referendum does not pass, Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer said.
The district's expenses are projected to continue outpacing revenue at an increasing rate through at least 2019, he said.
Of the 34 referendums in the state since 2008 that were related to school general funds, 16 have passed, which is a better result than referendums for building projects, according to the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.
Voters in Crown Point approved a 21-cent increase last May for school operations, and Lake Central School Corp. won approval in November on a second bid to borrow money to rebuild two schools.
The tax increase Duneland is proposing would boost the district's tax rate from 86 cents per $100 in assessed valuation to $1.08, which is still less than the state average of $1.18, Baer said. The increase would amount to $185 a year for a $178,800 average-priced home in the Duneland district, he said.
The school's rate is expected to drop by 3 cents in July and another 9 cents in four years as debt is paid off.
The additional revenue is needed because the district's general fund was reduced from $40 million in 2009 to $35.5 million last year, Baer said.
The district has responded, he said, by eliminating 35 positions over the past two years, including 17 teachers and 15 custodial and clerical employees. The number of administrators shrank during the same period from 24 to 20, Baer said.
There also has been no general pay increases since 2008-09, classified staff hours have been reduced by 30 minutes a day, and 12-month employees were furloughed for a week without pay, he said. The district also has taken part in shared purchasing, pursued energy savings at buildings, reduced the professional training budget and stopped subsidizing summer school.
"We've done about all the things we could do," Baer said.
Unlike the fight over the new high school, there does not appear to be any organized opposition to the Duneland referendum.
Dan Vondrasek Sr., a member of the protest group Occupy Chesterton, said while he is not opposed to the proposed increase, he wants to be sure any additional revenue does not go to further benefit administrators at the expense of teachers and lower level staff.
"We don't need three superintendents," said Vondrasek, of Chesterton.
In addition to Baer, the Duneland administration includes Monte Moffett, assistant superintendent for instruction, and Dave Pruis, assistant superintendent for operations and human relations.