Thursday, February 13, 2014

Star Reports Decatur Township Schools Chief Says Tax Increase is Only Solution to Keep Buses

From the Indianapolis Star:

Passage of a referendum to increase property taxes to generate revenue is the only solution Decatur Township Schools has to avoid catastrophic cuts, Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said at a public forum Wednesday night.

But even with those cuts, which could include layoffs and school closings, Prusiecki said, it would only get the district through 2014.

The forum, the first of eight planned by the southwest Marion County district, occurred a day after the School Board agreed to inform state education officials that Decatur Township may also have to suspend its bus service in 2017 without the $27 million that the local property tax increase would raise.

"I didn't take this job as a superintendent thinking, 'I want to do a referendum,'" Prusiecki told the crowd of about 100. "But it's the only solution I've got."

Reaction to the referendum from those in attendance at the event at Valley Mills Elementary School was generally supportive.

"I believe without it, value of our homes will be lowered," said Teresa Massengale, who worked for the district for seven years. "And the children will suffer. Cutting teachers or transportation is not in our best interest."

Rachel Thomas, who has four children in the district, said she would vote for the referendum.

"Because it wouldn't affect individual families a whole lot," Thomas said. "I feel not having buses would lower the value of our area."

The district faces a $2.5 million annual budget deficit and is expected to lose $7.5 million this year because of property tax caps, school officials have said.

Last month, the School Board approved the May 6 referendum to ask voters whether to add a new local property tax rate of $0.2986 per $100 of valuation, starting in 2015, which would then continue for seven years. The increase would create an additional $3.85 million in annual revenue, or about $27 million over the life of the tax.

According to Decatur schools, the average home in the district is valued at $92,500. If the referendum is approved, it would increase property tax bills by about $80 a year.