The decision is now in the hands of registered voters in Vernon Township.
On the primary election ballot in the spring of 2020, they will be asked to select yes or no on a referendum tax levy resolution question that reads as follows:
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“For the eight calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall Crothersville Community Schools impose a property tax rate that does not exceed 63 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property taxes imposed by the school corporation for the purpose of funding academic and educationally related programs, including the attraction and retention of teachers, expanding academic programs and providing support for students with special needs?”
Dale Schmelzle, president of the Crothersville Community School Corp. board of trustees, said during Monday night’s meeting that he agrees with that wording.
“To tie our hands and say this is all we’re going to do would be a grave mistake,” he said. “We want flexibility to use it where it’s needed, but this is what we think needs the most attention. If we’re retaining the funds on one side and not transferring it because now we have that support coming in through this levy, that frees up these monies to do this — what we want to do with it.”
The resolution, which was proposed by Superintendent Terry Goodin, was adopted by the board during the meeting.
Schmelzle asked for a motion. Jaime Land made it, it was seconded by Tiffany Reynolds and Linda Luedeman voted in favor of it, too. Trustee B.J. McLain was absent.
Crothersville currently is transferring 29% of the money in its education fund to the operations fund. The Indiana Department of Education, however, is moving toward not wanting schools to transfer more than 15% of the money they receive in their education fund to the operations fund, Goodin said.
In January, five funds were combined into two.
The education fund is dedicated to paying for teacher salaries and benefits and some school programming, and the two principals’ salaries come out of that fund. No local property tax dollars go to the fund, as it is funded by the state based on student enrollment.
The operations fund is dedicated to paying Goodin’s salary, his two staff members and around 30 other employees, including custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance personnel and some aides. It also includes expenses related to paying bills, bus costs and other costs of operating the school. The fund is based on the corporation’s assessed value.
Right now, the corporation is transferring more than $820,000 a year from the education fund to the operations fund. Goodin said the circuit breaker, which is taxes the corporation doesn’t collect, is at $16,539, but it’s projected to go to $20,000 next year.
“Then the pension debts that we sold … the state previously allowed you to take that money from the bus replacement fund and use that. They no longer allow you to do that,” he said. “You have to make it tax neutral, so that $193,149 is also dollars that we’ve lost.”
If passed, the referendum will allow the corporation to replace the money it has lost to get below the 15% transfer mark. Goodin said over the past eight years, the corporation has lost more than $1 million a year, but the referendum is only asking for $820,000 to replace that.
Goodin said the township’s current tax rate for the school is $1.10. An $820,000 increase to the tax rate will be 63 cents, bumping it up to $1.73.
People can visit gateway.ifionline.org/public/taxpayer, click on “Tax Bill Estimator” and receive an estimate of their property taxes based on assessed value and applicable deductions. To determine the tax increase for Vernon Township, take the net assessed value of your home after deductions and multiply it by 0.0063.
Goodin said for a person with a $90,000 home entering their homestead and supplemental homestead deductions, their current tax bill would be $537 for 2019. With the referendum, they would pay an extra $184.28 for a year, or $15.35 a month. Those 65 and older and disabled veterans should have other deductions to lower those numbers.
Goodin said the tax rate cannot exceed 63 cents, and as the assessed value grows, the rate could drop.
“I crunched the numbers and sat down and tried to do what was fair for everybody, and we looked at all of the scenarios and who’s going to be impacted,” he said.
“We tried to come up with a number we thought was fair, and that’s why we’re not asking for all of the money to be replaced. We tried to be very conservative and tried to ask for what we needed to move forward and make sure the school corporation is being able to deliver the product that we deliver.”
Money generated from the referendum would allow the corporation to provide raises to employees.
“Any dollar that we don’t have to take out of the education fund to transfer to pay bills or whatever, that’s an extra dollar we can pay for teacher salaries and try to retain teachers and keep them here,” Goodin said.
“We’re going to manage the school corporation that we think is the most appropriate and the most efficient way to do that, and if that concerns giving people salary increases or whatever, we’re going to do that to make sure that we maintain folks,” he said.
Corporation Treasurer Terry Richey said the raises would impact those who get paid out of both funds. She, however, said the board recently approved Goodin’s contract, so his salary is set for two years.
“We can give raises out in the education fund because we’re not moving near the money out of our education fund,” she said. “Our education fund will grow, which will allow us to give raises to the certified staff. That’s what we’re trying to get to here.”
Reynolds said it would be great to be able to give raises to teachers and add programming.
“We’ve lost some really good teachers because we haven’t been able to retain them,” she said of eight teachers leaving the corporation in the past two years.
“If we’re able to do additional programs and funding for those programs, that would be huge,” she said. “That would be my dream to have art back at Crothersville. I know so many kids that are passionate about it that want to do it. For us to be able to provide that to them instead of sending them somewhere else … to be able to attract more kids to come here … I think that could be really big for our community.”
Both Reynolds and Luedeman said people have asked them how the money generated from the referendum would be used. Goodin said the public has had opportunities to attend board meetings to get their questions answered, but just a few people showed up.
Goodin and Richey both said people are welcome to stop by the central administration building to get any questions answered.
“I’ll talk to anybody any time, and I know (Goodin) will, too, to try to help explain it,” Richey said.
Goodin suggested continuing to put a referendum resolution discussion on the agenda for upcoming monthly board meetings.
“I know that you’re always available at your office, but sometimes, I think the community feels good as a group,” Reynolds said. “If they are able to really fully understand how it’s going to be utilized, why it’s going to be utilized and what it can do for our school ultimately, I think that would be a big help in that direction.”