Muncie IN public schools seeks big tax hike to bail out transportation costs
By Rick Yencer
MUNCIE, IN - Muncie Community Schools want voters to bail out public schools and their transportation costs by raising property taxes by $6 million a year over the next seven years.
That costly referendum set Nov. 5 already has opponents like the Tea Party, Good Government and other property owners fed up by rising taxes, a declining tax base and the inability of schools and government to reduce costs.
Mark Burkhart, school financial chief, was confident Thursday that the schools' base of parents, teachers and other supporters of public schools would prevail despite fewer resources created by state tax caps and a school funding formula that rewards rich school districts and punishes poor ones.
Muncie schools is among the poorest in the state, with more than 75 percent of its 6,500 students on free or reduced lunch. It also costs about $14,700 a student to educate in Muncie schools, compared to $8,600 in Yorktown schools.
Burkhart said the issue was not how the state doled out money to schools, rather how the Legislature capped property taxes and virtually wiped out school transportation funds and then did not fix the problems, leaving public schools to find their own relief.
That relief is a referendum which the Muncie School Board recently decided to seek that would add 39 cents to every $100 of assessed value to a property owner's tax bill.
For a home valued around $75,000, that means several hundred dollars more a year. For business and industry with several million dollars in value, that is several thousand dollars more in taxes.
The Delaware County Election Board began planning for the special election Thursday, given there is no other government election in 2013.
Steve Craycraft, Delaware County clerk, believed the 42 voting precincts that make up the Muncie school district could be consolidated into about 17 polling places. While still figuring costs that could be $30,000-$40,000, Craycraft said nothing was in stone with the referendum other than the date on Nov. 5.
Kaye Whitehead, Republican member of the election board thought polling places could be consolidated even more to about five, given the number of voters might be fewer than a government election.
It might take another month to actually determine costs and set polling places. Craycraft also wanted to keep polls out of schools since the single ballot issue involved them,
Chris Hiatt, a member of Government Good, a former repeal property taxes group, opposed the tax hike, saying the schools refused to cut spending or even close schools.
And the schools have big five and six figure administrators in front office staff that Hiatt said should see pay cuts before property owners pay more.
Mayor Dennis Tyler has been opposed to raising taxes after county government tried to raise a capital fund to help cover declining revenue. That measure as withdrawn after it was determined more capital funds would not solve the problem of needing more money to pay operating expenses.
School Board President Beverly Kelley thought the referendum should wait until 2014, but Burkhart told the school board they had to raise more revenue or face not being able to transport students to school. There was no immediate word whether Muncie's public transportation system could pick up all students and offset other transportation costs paid by the schools.
Besides Kelley, Tony Costello, Debbie Feick, Michael Long and Robert Warrner are other elected school board members seeking the referendum.